Publicity and Souvenir Photographs

cabinet card photograph of Sarah Bernhardt in the role of HamletIn order to publicize performances artists distribute photographs through various media sources, such as newspapers. Artists also produce photographs to sell or distribute as souvenirs. Both of these practices date back to the earliest formats of photography, such as daguerreotypes, cartes de visite, and cabinet card photographs

Clues about staging, costuming, and how acts advertised themselves can be gleaned from these sources. However, it's important to remember that they are not documentary in purpose and aren't necessarily faithful to the production. Staging might be tweaked for a better photograph - in fact, until the late 19th century actors would generally pose using photography studio backdrops rather than on stage.

More information and examples of theatrical photography can be found on Photography and The American Stage, a project run by David Shields at the University of South Carolina.

Searching for Photographs

To search for photographic material, go to the Advanced Search page in HOLLIS. Select Library Catalog from the Search for: options, change Keywords Anywhere to Form/Genre in the dropdown menu next to the first search box, and enter photograph*:

Screenshot of search for photographic material

You can then use the second search box to search for a name, production title, or other term relevant to your research.

Two large portrait collections in the Harvard Theatre Collection do not yet have finding aids. If you are looking for images of performers from the 1860s through the early 20th century they can be useful resources but will not show up in searches for specific names: