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How Great Great Grandpa Became a Work of Art

Modern digital photography has revolutionised the way we take photographs. Portraits of friends and family are downloaded instantly and in a few seconds can be posted around the world. A similar revolution occurred in 1859 when a new photographic technique allowed many small pictures to be processed on a single photographic plate. These small images were known as cartes de visites or visiting cards. They were inexpensive, widely available and hugely popular.

The new exhibition at Stranraer Museum brings together over 150 original Victorian cartes de visites. Most of the images are formal portraits with individuals posing in their Sunday best. These snap shots of 19th century life include men with toppers, smoking hats and luxuriant side whiskers, women decked out in crinolines and pinafore dresses and little boys smiling nervously as they are forced into their sailor suits.

These were studio portraits and the long exposure required sitters to maintain their pose for a number of minutes. A neck clamp was often used to prevent the sitter’s head from moving and blurring the picture!

The portraits on show were taken at photographic studios across Britain but include a number from Wigtownshire. Stranraer Museum curator John Pickin said “We have added a number of portraits by local photographers such as Dalrymple and Kay from Stranraer and McKnaught of Newton Stewart. It is fascinating to see the faces and fashion of this area as they were 150 years ago. Cartes de visite were often sent by young men to potential sweethearts - you are left wondering what response these shy suitors received.’.

The exhibition runs until 14 October and admission is free.