Acting Out: Cabinet Cards and the Making of Modern Photography
Edited by John Rohrbach
Closing out our National Photography Month spotlights, UC Press is excited to preview our forthcoming release Acting Out, the first ever in-depth examination of the cabinet card phenomena. Co-published in association with the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, a leader in American photography, this exhibition and accompanying catalogue reveal how photography studios and their sitters across the United States introduced immediacy to studio portraiture and transformed their sessions into avenues of fun and personal expression.
Cabinet cards were America’s main format for photographic portraiture throughout the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Standardized at 6½ x 4¼ inches, they were just large enough to reveal extensive detail, leading to the incorporation of elaborate poses, backdrops, and props. Inexpensive and sold by the dozen, they transformed getting one’s portrait made from a formal event taken up once or twice in a lifetime into a commonplace practice shared with friends. By making photographs an easygoing fact of life, the cards forecast the snapshot and today’s ubiquitous photo sharing.
Full-color plates include over 100 cards at full size, providing a highly entertaining collection of these early versions of the selfie and ultimately demonstrating how cabinet cards made photography modern.
The exhibition is tentatively scheduled to open at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in August, followed by a showing at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) in 2021.