Vintage photos from a Victorian artist who manipulated pictures and paved the way for modern photo-editing techniques

Courtesy of the J. Paul Getty Trust
  • Victorian artist Oscar G. Rejlander is known as the “father of art photography.”
  • He pioneered combination printing and “tunnel studios” to manipulate photographs before Photoshop existed.
  • His work is on display at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles until June 9.
  • Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.

Oscar G. Rejlander was ahead of his time.

A new exhibit at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, California, explores Rejlander’s experimental photography using combination printing and “tunnel studios” to manipulate pictures before the days of Photoshop.

“Oscar Rejlander: Artist Photographer” is on display until June 9. Here are 15 photos from Rejlander’s collection.


Oscar G. Rejlander is known as the “father of art photography.”

Courtesy of the J. Paul Getty Trust‘Enchanted by a Parrot,’ circa 1860.

He was born in Sweden in 1813.


He was a painter before he became a photographer.

Courtesy of the J. Paul Getty Trust‘Study of Hands,’ 1856.

His attention to detail while posing his subjects and composing his shots drew from his fine arts background.


He moved to England in 1839 and worked as a portrait photographer.

Courtesy of the J. Paul Getty Trust‘Henry Taylor,’ 1863.

He first worked as a painter, then started doing photography in 1853.


He photographed famous names such as Charles Darwin and Lewis Carroll.

Courtesy of the J. Paul Getty Trust‘Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson),’ 1863.

Other famous clients included poets Alfred Lord Tennyson and Henry Taylor.


But he also took a particular interest in regular people.

Courtesy of the J. Paul Getty Trust‘Madonna and Child with St. John the Baptist,’ circa 1860.

He had an eye for the ordinary.


Rejlander was known for his ability to capture spontaneous expressions from his subjects.

Courtesy of the J. Paul Getty Trust‘The Cup that Cheers,’ circa 1860.

In some ways, he was the precursor to a modern street photographer.


On the side, he experimented with combination printing.

Courtesy of the J. Paul Getty Trust‘The Comb Seller (Oscar and Mary Rejlander),’ circa 1860.

Combination printing is a technique using multiple negatives to create a single image.


The technique, developing several negatives into one image, was similar to modern-day Photoshop.

Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2019‘A ‘Set To,” 1855.

Photoshop is a powerful tool that also allows users to combine and manipulate images.


Before Photoshop, there was “Two Ways of Life,” Rejlander’s most well-known example of combination printing.

Courtesy of the J. Paul Getty Trust‘Two Ways of Life (Hope in Repentance),’ 1857.

The photo took Rejlander three days to create by combining 30 negatives into one image and remains one of the best examples of combination printing from the Victorian Era.


He also built a “tunnel studio” in 1863 that helped him capture more depth of expression.

Courtesy of the J. Paul Getty Trust‘Mary Constable and Her Brother,’ 1866.

Rejlander’s tunnel studio positioned subjects in light, but had them look into a camera in a dark corner of the studio. The darkness caused the subjects’ pupils to expand for more expressive shots while keeping them well-lit.


For the first time, a new exhibit at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles is dedicated to his work.

Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2019‘The Sailor Boy,’ 1855.

The exhibit contains 150 of Rejlander’s photographs.


“Rejlander tells us in his writings that ‘It is the mind of the artist, and not the nature of his materials, which makes his production a work of art,'” Timothy Potts, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum, said in a statement.

Courtesy of the J. Paul Getty Trust‘Sherry Cobbler (Self-Portrait),’ circa 1860.

He used simple materials and techniques in innovative ways.


“While technologies have dramatically changed, some of the fundamental issues that Rejlander grappled with in his photographs still resonate with photographic practice today.”

Courtesy of the J. Paul Getty Trust‘Bad Temper,’ circa 1870.

Rejlander helped define art photography and paved the way for more advanced photo editing techniques.


“His photographs, though made a century and a half ago, are both meticulously of their time and timeless, foreshadowing many later achievements of the medium through to the digital age.”

Courtesy of the J. Paul Getty Trust‘Young Woman in Costume,’ 1858.

When used in excess, Photoshop can go horribly wrong. But in the hands of an imaginative artist, it can elevate a work of art.


“Oscar Rejlander: Artist Photographer,” is open until June 9.

Courtesy of the J. Paul Getty Trust‘The Bachelor’s Dream,’ circa 1860.

“What we hope comes through in the exhibition is Rejlander’s humanity and humour, as well as his humble nature, particularly evident in the fact that he often sent his work to exhibitions under the name ‘amateur,'” Karen Hellman, assistant curator of photographs at the Getty Museum, said in a statement.

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