In the last twenty-five years there were two landmark books published in the history of photography: one is The World of Stereographs and the other Cartes de Visite in Nineteenth-Century Photography. Both were authored by William Darrah, a great benefactor to all photography historians who indebted to him for his meticulous research and for whom was named the National Stereoscopic Society's highest award. This is a survey of staggering proportion, where no less than 40,000 carte de visite specimens were examined from the author's vast collection and others. Darrah uses his long experience as a collector and the immense database formed by these collections to draw conclusions about the carte de visite.
Darrah saw the gallery photographer and his output as window on history for us and reminds us that much of common artistic, cultural, geographical and ethnographic facts we now take for granted as "educated" citizens were learned through the carte de visite and stereograph view. He along with a few other authors like Taft, felt that history of photography should be more than an examination of stylistic trends apparent in the work of a few photographers of acknowledge artistic merit. In this respect, Darrah, Taft and other began the movement away from Beaumont Newhall's vision of an art-historical approach to photography.
The serious study of photographic images has, until recently, been done almost entirely by art historians who, by choice, avoided commercially produced images in the search for individualism and expression. ---William C. Darrah.
This book is the first complete survey of the carte de visite ever attempted. And remains the most comprehensive work on the topic today. Darrah creates a subject list of the carte de visite. He give detailed instructions for approximating the date a card was produced. Show what information can be gleaned from the imprint and other card and image characteristics. A comprehensive list of subjects found in cartes de visite takes a major place in the work.
Darrah and Taft both wanted to recognize the ordinary gallery operator as an extraordinary part of a world wide social process that changed people's way of thinking about their world. The inexpensive card photograph had democratized portraiture and opened up the world of art, architecture and science to entire populations of ordinary people.