Disillusioned Victorian Photography and the Discerning Subject

Jordan Bear

How do photographs compel belief and endow knowledge? To understand the impact of photography in a given era, we must study the adjacent forms of visual persuasion with which photographs compete and collaborate. In photography’s early days, magic shows, scientific demonstrations, and philosophical games repeatedly put the visual credulity of the modern public to the test in ways that shaped, and were shaped by, the reality claims of photography. These venues invited viewers to judge the reliability of their own visual experiences. Photography resided at the center of a constellation of places and practices in which the task of visual discernment—of telling the real from the constructed—became an increasingly crucial element of one’s location in cultural, political, and social relations. In Disillusioned: Victorian Photography and the Discerning Subject, Jordan Bear tells the story of how photographic trickery in the 1850s and 1860s participated in the fashioning of the modern subject. By locating specific mechanisms of photographic deception employed by the leading mid-century photographers within this capacious culture of discernment, Disillusioned integrates some of the most striking—and puzzling—images of the Victorian period into a new and expansive interpretive framework.



  • $34.95 paper, 978-0-271-06502-1
  • $74.95 cloth, 978-0-271-06501-4
  • $0.00 ebook
  • 216 pages
  • 65 duotone illus., 7 x 10 in.

Content Excerpt

Table of Contents

about the author

Jordan Bear is an associate professor of art history at the University of Toronto. His scholarship has focused on the historical intersection of visual representation, knowledge and belief. His second book project, developed with the support of the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, focuses on the display of history painting and conceptions of visual evidence in London during the first quarter of the Nineteenth Century. More generally, he maintains an ongoing interest in the visual representation of knowledge in the natural and human sciences, as well as in visual communication in the illustrated press.