‘Your’s truly’: The creation and consumption of commercial tourist portraits

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There is a long history of tourists substantiating their visits to a destination through the purchase of portraits that show them against a backdrop of the local setting. While its initial expression in the form of paintings was confined to the social elite who could afford to commission and sit for an artist, the advent of photography democratized the process, enabling the aspiring middle classes to partake in the custom. While some tourists took their own photographs, the majority relied on local photographers who offered their services in studio and open-air settings. Smaller-sized images, such as Cartes de Visite (2.5″ × 4″) and Cabinet Cards (4.5″ × 6.5″), could be enclosed with letters to family and social circles, thus providing proof of visits while the voyage was still in progress. The development of picture postcards as a postal item in the 1890s, coupled with the manufacture of precut photographic paper with preprinted address fields, revolutionized tourist portraiture. Photographers could set-up outside tourist attractions, where tourists could have their portrait taken with formulaic framing against a canonized background. Efficient production flows meant that tourists could pick up their printed portraits, ready for mailing within an hour. Using examples of San Marc’s Basilica in Venice (Italy), as well as Ostrich Farms in California and Florida (U.S.A.), this paper contextualizes the production and consumption of such commercial tourist portraits as objects of social validation. It discusses their ability to situate the visitor in locales iconic of the destination, substantiating their presence and validating their experience. Given the speed of production (within an hour) and their ability to be immediately mailed through the global postal network, such images were the precursor of the modern-day ‘selfies’ posted on social media. View Full-Text
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3257-3287
Number of pages31
Issue number4
Early online date12 Oct 2021
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021


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