Rejlander’s procedure in combination-printing was as follows. He first made a pencil sketch. With a pair of compasses he measured on the focusing glass the proportional size of each figure according to the sketch. After that he took the corresponding negatives. The figures were then printed together on one sheet of paper which was covered with velvet apart from where the figure appeared. The main difficulty was to obtain the desired shade and tone of the figure so that it matched the other ones. No retouching was done on the print. [Strasser 60-61]

Rejlander's portrait study for The Two Ways of Life, watercolour, crayon and chalk on photographic emulsion, 1856-1857; NPG x199786 © National Portrait Gallery, London. Rejlander often used himself as a model.

Oscar Gustaf Rejlander (1813-1875) was born in Stockholm, and lived in Sweden until his mid-twenties. In 1838, however, he and his parents came to England, where he stayed in various parts of the country — Hull, Lincoln, Wolverhampton, and eventually London. Wolverhampton was the place where he first settled down and established himself as an artist, remaining there for most of the 1840s, through to 1852 (see Lori 20). This was the year in which he was naturalised, and soon afterwards he turned from painter and miniaturist to pioneer photographer. Accurately described now as "an English portrait photographer of Swedish origin" (Gernsheim 73), he moved to London where he settled more permanently, taking a house in Kentish Town and opening a studio behind it in 1862 — the year in which his marriage to Mary (née Bull) is recorded in the St Pancras area. Once based in the south-east, he became Julia Cameron's "favourite photographer" (Hannavy 70), while Lewis Carroll, another friend and admirer, found some "very beautiful" prints and negatives among his collection when he visited the studio (qtd. in Wakeling 170) — and later bought some of the prints for his own collection.

Despite Rejlander's innovations in this new art form, his essays on photography, and the interest that had been shown in his work by Prince Albert, Rejlander lost favour: his approach involved too much manipulation for his critics, and (worse) his content was sometimes too suggestive for them. A revival of interest in the later 1860s, when, for example, he supplied Charles Darwin with photographs useful for their delineation of human emotions, proved temporary: he died poverty-stricken after a painful illness that had prevented him from working, leaving his young widow (only half his age) to settle some debts. His posthumous reputation dwindled further after a retrospective of 1890 was badly received. Edgar Yoxall Jones's work on him in 1974, entitled Oscar Rejlander: father of art photography, marked an important stage in its recovery. — Jacqueline Banerjee

Works

Review

Bibliography

FreeBMD (genealogical records). Web. 20 July 2019. (Note: Mary Rejlander remarried twice, in late 1877, and then again in 1900.)

Gernsheim, Helmut. A Concise History of Photography. 3rd revised ed. Mineola, NY: Dover, 1986.

Hacking, Juliet. "Rejlander, Oscar Gustaf (1813–1875), photographer." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online ed. Web. 20 July 2019.

Hannavy, John. Masters of Victorian Photography. New York: Holmes & Meier, 1976.

Jones, Edgar Yoxall. Father of Art Photography: O. G. Rejlander, 1813-1875. London: David & Charles, 1873.

Pauli, Lori (avec la contribution de Lori Karen Hellman, Jordan Bear & Phillip Prodger). Oscar G. Rejlander: Artiste photographe. Milan: 5 Continents, 2018 [Review].

Strasser, Alex. Victorian Photography. London: The Focal Press, 1942.

Wakeling, Edward. Lewis Carroll: The Man and His Circle. London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2015 [Review].


Last modified 20 July 2019