In the 1860s, lacking the technology to reproduce photographs themselves, the illustrated press endorsed the authenticity of engravings by claiming relationships with photography, and thus also with photography’s truth-value. Following this practice, in April of 1866, L’Univers illustré printed an illustration of the Paris Catacombs on its front page. Although it had actually been produced after a number of photographs, strategically copied and pasted together, these pieces had been transformed into a representative whole as the caption declared it to be a scene “after a photograph by Nadar.” Reappearing in the United States thirty years later among hundreds of other borrowed prints in the Illustrated Home Book of the World’s Great Nations, this image was further detached from Nadar textually, as well as chronologically and geographically. It thus became, for those across the Atlantic, an even truer representation of reality. It became yet another montage masquerading as a homogenous picture of reality, for an audience that was unlikely to see the ‘real thing.’ This research examines the meticulous collaging processes of the illustrated press, and the translation of images across national lines that precluded the agency of the observer to accumulate and synthesize subjectively. Further, considering relationships between captions, images and borrowed text this paper proposes a skeptical lens through which to view the visual culture of the early illustrated press and the experiences of ‘armchair travel.’ In a period for which technological advances in travel and communication ostensibly brought the world closer, the deceptive collaging strategies of the illustrated press drew the public further from reality.
This research was presented at “Collage, Montage, Assemblage: Collected and Composite Forms, 1700-Present,” a conference at the University of Edinburgh (April 18th & 19th, 2018).