Acting Out: Cabinet Cards and the Making of Modern Photography

August 15–November 1, 2020
Second floor

Acting Out: Cabinet Cards and the Making of Modern Photography offers the first-ever in-depth examination of the photographic phenomenon of cabinet cards. Cabinet cards were America’s main format for photographic portraiture through the last three decades of the 19th century. Inexpensive and sold by the dozen, they transformed getting one’s portrait made from a formal event taken up once or twice in a lifetime into a commonplace practice shared with family and friends.

Building on the Museum’s history as a leader in American photography, this exhibition reveals how photography studios and their sitters across the United States introduced immediacy to studio portraiture and transformed their sessions into avenues of fun and personal expression. Sections will trace the cabinet card’s development and evolution, from its beginnings in celebrity culture through the marketing and advertising innovations of practitioners to the diversity of what people brought to their sittings. Not only did Americans embrace photography as a commonplace fact of life during these years, they openly played with the medium’s believability. In short, cabinet cards made photography modern.

Watch the Acting Out exhibition talk from September 3:

Installation Photos

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