THE BEGINNINGS OF PHOTOGRAPHY IN BUCHAREST. MASTERS AND IMAGES OF THE 19th CENTURY

The photography technique, a new practice imported in Romania from the West, amazed the entire population of Bucharest at the middle of the 19th century. Interest in photography started to appear in our country likely around 1834 when a pharmacist lost his life after working with bromine during his relative researches on photography.

On February 16th 1839, “The Romanian Bee” magazine announced the invention of the daguerreotypy. The technique was new and quite complicated. The daguerreotypy was extremely fragile, but of a great finesse and preciseness; it could not be multiplied and came only in very small sizes.

It appears that the first photography studio in Bucharest belonged to a woman, Wilhelmine Priz, who made daguerreotypy portraits “at a very decent price”. Daguerreotypy was practice in Romania until 1860, and the first camera of this kind was bought by the St Sava College in 1840. It is said that the first to use it was Carol Popp of Szathmari. In 1873 the first gelatin-bromine plates appeared and marked the beginning of modern photography. Carol Popp of Szathmari was one of the most famous and appreciated photographers of his time. He was the first great photographer of Wallachia, capturing the changes that the country went through during the reigns of three rulers. He is also credited with capturing the first image of Bucharest, a calotype named The Field of Procopoaia. A photographer with a unique status, as he cannot be counted among the ones with photography studios, but who still played a major role in capturing the first pictures of Bucharest, was Ludwig Angerer. He was not only one of the first photographers of Bucharest, but also one of Vienna’s greatest photographers.

Franz Duschek was another renowned master who owned a studio on New Street (today Edgar Quintet) and was also brother in-law to Szathmari. In 1872, he announced that he takes pictures “on any weather, sunny or cloudy” and assured of “any fair acceptance of honorary public that will visit my workshop”.

Another famed photographer was Franz Mandy, who opened his studio in 1877, on Victoriei Street. He was the first among his colleagues to introduce the practice of keeping record of the negatives starting from 1 and counting onwards throughout the entire existence of the studio. The number of Bucharestian photographers who followed in the steps of these great Masters is not to be neglected: A.D. Rieser, Eduard Pesky (who signed “academic painter” on the photographs), Moritz Benedict Baer, W. Wollenteit, Iosif Szollosy, Ioan Spirescu, J. Marie.

The majority of the photographers were allogeneous, especially Germans, Austrians, French, Polish, Czechs, and in time, Romanians – although fewer. Therefore, we know of the existence of Romanian studios especially toward the end of the century, like the ones belonging to Ion Gavrilescu, Dumitru Constantinescu, I. Nicolescu, M. Davidescu. Generally, the photographs were of various sizes, according to the demands of image framing and the photographer’s fantasy.  They were glued onto cardboards with the photographer’s firm name written on the back or, sometimes, on the front down bottom. Respected firms purchased their cardboards from Vienna, custom-made with their signature on the back, and there are quite many such photographs preserved until today. Later on, cardboards with various designs on the back – flowers, lovers and a camera framing the word SOUVENIR – started to be sold. The pictures were glued onto the cardboards by hot pressing a special film. If master photographers usually worked with small sizes, specialized state laboratories worked with larger sizes as well.

The exhibition “The Beginnings of Photography in Bucharest. Masters and Images of the 19th century” wishes to introduce the public, starting with 2015, to the work of master photographers who worked in Bucharest during 1853-1856. This year, the exhibition refers to the photographers who worked in Bucharest during 1850 – 1900. The project explores the photographic patrimony of the Bucharest Municipality Museum, many of the items on display being presented to the public for the first time.

Dr. Lelioara Zamani – Gavnani

Head of heritage History Department

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