Portrait Photography then and now

A friend is going to be giving a TED talk soon. He asked me what it cost to get a family portrait done in the 1850s and guessed “In today’s dollars I expect it was >$ 1000?” He didn’t say why he was interested but I am assuming that it was part of an argument about the wonders of technological progress.

That set me to searching and I found this page on daguerreotypes, which was the first photographic process that was practical as a consumer product. It turned out that $ 2 was the price to have a family portrait done by Mathew Brady, whose work today is sought after by art museums. Adjusted for inflation with http://www.westegg.com/inflation/ that’s about $ 55 today, i.e., about half what you’d pay to have a 19-year-old do a portrait session with a few prints at your local J.C. Penney.

Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

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