Is the Photography a Mirror?

An Abbreviated History of Portrait Photography

By examining Edward Hartwig's archive, we look at one of the most important chapters in the history of photography, the portrait, which was also an important motif in Hartwig's work.

The spectacular increase in the popularity of photography, which occurred a dozen years after its invention, was due to improvements in technology and a reduction in the required exposure time for photographs. This directly brought new opportunities opening up for portrait photography. Shorter exposure times also meant shorter posing times, which made taking pictures of oneself simpler, less consuming and more comfortable. It also became cheaper and cheaper over time, so it became more and more accessible and common.

Portraiture used to be reserved for the wealthy, but photography effectively democratized it, and the fashion for portraiture and for collecting images in diverse forms - from life-size portraits to the famous carte de visite or miniature photographs that were used, as jewelry pieces - took over the world. Photographic portraits became an important element, even the foundation of mass culture - through photographs already in the 19th century, rulers, politicians, but also, for example, actors, built their popularity. Their faces were immortalized on photographic plates and reproduced in many thousands of copies, as prints.

Edward Hartwig created photographic portraits from the very beginning of his career, that is, from the time when, as a 14-year-old, he started working in the photography business of his father, Ludwik, who was a favorite photographer of, among others, Lublin actresses and actors. Edward continued this tradition, gaining experience as a portrait photographer in Warsaw theaters, among other places, after World War II.
Edward Hartwig's archive also contains numerous family photographs, including many of his daughters, Danuta and Ewa, who were documented by him from the first moments of their lives. These time-changing images of girls, maidens and then women are a touching story of the special relationship between father and daughters.