Photographs of the photographic act were common in the 20th century, but less so in the 19th century, when each negative was a challenge to achieve.
Delicate chemistry, cumbersome glass plates and large cameras had to be dealt with, so every shot was carefully planned – and no photographer would allow a camera to interrupt his shot so visibly at unless he wants it there.
Perhaps then this image was made as part of an advertisement for Gioacchino Altobelli’s own company. He and another photographer, Pompeo Molins, operated a studio in Rome specializing in photos of popular sites (like the Arch of Constantine) that they could sell to tourists as souvenirs.
Because this photograph concerns both the site and the process of photography, it would have been (and perhaps was intended to be) the perfect frontispiece for a sales catalog – a way of declaring: “We are photographers and that is what we are photographing”.
This photograph and many more are featured in the book “Looking Again: Photography at the New Orleans Museum of Art”, which explores the vast and excellent collection of photographs at the New Orleans Art Museum.
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