Class portraits are now standard for school students each year, but that hasn’t always been the case. There is very little research on when school portrait photography began, but it does appear to correlate with the popularity and accessibility of portable cameras (like the Brownie camera). In the 19th century, most photography was done in professional portrait studios. It is notable that this class portrait is taken outside of a studio and that it is taken inside with low-light. If you look closely at this photograph, you can see that the light source is coming from the left side of the frame because the students on that side are brighter, while the students on the right are better exposed. The added challenge here is having a classroom of school children sit perfectly still for the long-exposure time (possibly as long as a few minutes) required to capture this photograph!
This photograph comes from the Early Brooklyn and Long Island photograph collection that is comprised of (roughly) 1,400 black-and-white photographs taken by various photographers from circa 1860 to 1920. The majority of photographs in this collection depict views of Brooklyn and Suffolk County. To view more photographs from this collection, check out this gallery.
Interested in seeing more photos from BHS’s collection? Visit our online image gallery, which includes a selection of our images. Interested in seeing even more historic Brooklyn images? Visit our Brooklyn Visual Heritage website here. To search BHS’s entire collection of images, archives, maps, and special collections visit BHS’s Othmer Library Wed-Sat, 1:00-5:00 p.m. email@example.com