Published online by Cambridge University Press: 28 November 2008
Of the many surviving relics of the Victorian and Edwardian actress, the photograph is among the most enduring and more ubiquitous. These images, most often sepia prints mounted on stiff beige cardboard on whose front is imprinted the name and address of a photographic studio and on whose reverse appear testimonials to the photographer's prowess and patronage, fill the cabinets of collectors or inhabit museum file boxes and display cases. Some images are fixed upon glass or china, some upon thin iron plates. Some images are reproduced and reach their consumers through early or advanced print technology; some are even printed in colour. By and large the images are stable enough to resist deterioration. Although made from light directed at surfaces sensitised with silver and treated with chemicals, the images remain unless dampness, mould or unusually strong sunlight causes them to fade. They survive. Thus these once inexpensive, supposedly ephemeral objects come readily to hand - valuable (and now comparatively expensive) when we query the actress's identity, her career trajectory, her professional, social and private status. They address the question: if the actress isn't seen upon the stage, how else - and where else - is she seen, identified, celebrated, memorialised, turned into an icon? What connects the spectator or former spectator or would-be spectator to the actress? How have photography and the photograph impacted on the professional and private lives of greater and lesser actresses?