Négresse 2: Cora, age 18, born of a negro father and Indian mother (dorsal) Bertall  (French, 1820-1882)

This image belongs to a series of photographs commissioned in the nineteenth century by the Société d’Ethnographie, a club of French ethnographers.
Originally printed in the albumen process and published between 1865 and 1867, the first plates of this collection were also exhibited at the Universal Exhibition of 1867. By 1882 the Society recognized that the prints were fading and resolved to publish a “new” edition using the superior process of photogravure. This "new edition", sold by subscription to the booksellers of the Ethnographic Society, thus reproduced, in gravure on copper plate, 9 of the 42 photos that had originally been printed on albumen paper. As the text points out, the use of this process offered better image stability and the photogravures have indeed retained an incredible freshness. The images are so remarkable that one would easily be led to celebrate their artistic value, but that would be to forget the primary objective of the Ethnographic Society, which remained the updating of different "human types". In fact, the photographs are essentially rigorous and methodical; in this they respond to the "resolutely medical tendency" which was practiced at the time.

Reproduced / Exhibited

Princeton University Art Museum



P.-J. Jehel. "A photographic illusion: sketch of the relations between photography and anthropology in France in the 19th century".

"Acquisitions of the Princeton University Art Museum 2008," Record of the Princeton University Art Museum 68 (2009): p. 69-119., p. 87