The Early History of Companion Animal Photography, 1850 - 1915



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In the days before the instant snapshot, portraits were made almost exclusively in studios by professional photographers.  Cameras were cumbersome, exposures were long, and subjects often had to hold a pose for a minute or more.  But for aspiring capitalists, newly betrothed couples or growing Victorian families, donning their best clothes and making the pilgrimage to the photographer's workshop was a special occasion.

For many of these people, animal companions were an integral part of this portrait experience.


Prior to the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century, the notion of keeping animals strictly for companionship was largely the purview of the more affluent classes, but as working people attained new heights in prosperity, the material trappings of status, especially the keeping of nonworking animals, emerged as a popular pursuit.

As much as this new and prosperous modern life offered in the way of advancement, it could also be fickle, impersonal and shockingly cruel, leaving many struggling with profound feelings of alienation.  In these circumstances, pets assumed new roles as providers of nonjudgmental acceptance.  For some, their animals were the only family that could be counted on regardless of social standing or lack of.  The act of loving and being loved by a pet had become a revelatory experience, prompting an “awakening of conscience,” in the words of ASPCA founder Henry Bergh. 


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All images in this online exhibit are the copyrighted property of Animal Image Photography (  Reproduction in any media is prohibited without prior permission.  For the purposes of this exhibit, some of the photos have been digitally enhanced by the selective application of color.