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Glass plate negatives

Albert and Victoria’s collection of glass plate negatives show photographers’ working methods

Family portraits

From the 1850s, Prince Albert and Queen Victoria employed and commissioned photographers on a regular basis to document important family occasions and daily life, including Roger Fenton, Leonida Caldesi (1822-91) and Dr Ernst Becker.

It was not uncommon for the photographers to be summoned to the residency the royal family was residing in at the time. Many of the portrait sessions took place on the gardens or terraces, where the lighting conditions were favourable. When an interior setting was required, elaborate tents and backdrops were erected outdoors. Unlike the resulting photographs that were carefully cropped, the glass plate negatives regularly feature details of the makeshift nature of such constructions. The negatives also reveal the process of review and editing, manifested by scratched out images indicating displeasing poses and masked out areas concealing unfavourable elements. Such elements and procedures visible exclusively in the negatives provide a fascinating insight into the working methods of nineteenth-century photographers.