Oscar Rejlander


Oscar Gustave Rejlander (Sweden 1813 – London 1875) was a pioneering Victorian art photographer.
His exact date of birth is uncertain, but is probably 1813.
 He abandoned his original profession as a painter and portrait minaturist, apparently after seeing how well a photograph captured the fold of a sleeve. Other accounts say he was inspired by one of Fox Talbot's assistants.
He set up as a portraitist in the industrial Midlands town of Wolverhampton, probably around 1846. Around 1850 he learned the wet-collodion process at great speed, and then changed his business to that of a photography studio. He undertook genre work and portraiture. He also created erotic work, using as models the circus girls of Mme Wharton, street children and child prostitutes - his Charlotte Baker series remains notorious.

Rejlander undertook many experiments to perfect his photography, including combination printing, which it is possible he may have invented. He was a friend of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, who collected Rejlander's early child work and corresponded with him on technical matters. Rejlander later created one of the best known & most revealing portraits of Dodgson.

His early work only slightly sullied his later reputation, and he participated in the Paris Exhibition of 1855. In 1857 he made his best-known allegorical work, The Two Ways of Life. This was a seamlessly montaged combination print made of thirty-two images (akin to the use of Photoshop today, but then far more difficult to achieve). First exhibited at Manchester, the work shows two youths being offered guidance by a patriarch. Each youth looks toward a section of a stage-like tableaux vivant - one youth is shown the virtuous pleasures and the other the sinful pleasures. The image's partial nudity was deemed 'indecent' by some - and those familiar with Rejlander's more commercial work might also suspect that prostitutes had been used as cheap models. But the 'indecency' faded when Queen Victoriaordered a copy to give to Prince Albert.
This success, and membership of the Royal Photographic Society of London, gave him an entree into London respectability.


 He moved his studio to London around 1862 and further experimented with double exposure, photomontage, photographic manipulation and retouching. He became a leading expert in photographic techniques, lecturing and publishing widely.
He married Mary Bull in 1862, who was twenty-four years his junior. Mary had been his photographic model in Wolverhampton since she was aged 14.
Some of his images were purchased as drawing-aids to Victorian painters of repute, such as Sir Lawrence Alma Tadema. In 1872 his photography illustrated Darwin's classic treatise on The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals.
Rejlander's ideas and techniques were taken up by other photographers and this, to some extent, justifies labelling him as the father of art photography.




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