Considered to be a fine work of art in its own right, this reproduction of Una and the Wood Nymphs by W E Frost, by the 'artists' Caldesi and Montecchi, was one of 1009 photographic images displayed at the Victoria and Albert (then known as the Kensington) museum in 1858.
Such a method of reproduction was softer and truer than that achieved by engraving and proved a great commercial success. But, some photographers preferred to go one step further in their art, using life models when constructing scenes from literature or history. For instance, the albumen print below, photographed by William Lake Price, shows Don Quixote in his Study - surrounded by all the requistite props to fully reconstruct a scene from Cervantes' novel.
The new science of photography was exploited as more than an art form. The Victorians also used this means for the recording of posterity - significantly to show some scenes from an era of industrialisation.
In the image below Robert Howlett documented the construction of the SS Great Eastern (also known as The Leviathon). At that time it was the largest steam ship to have ever been constructed, though that symbol of the Empire's greatness was doomed to commercial failure and the ship was scrapped in 1888. Nevertheless, the VV thinks that it is an astonishing print because it really does convey the scale of ambition, invention and design. And as an added bonus, dwarfed below the ship itself is that other 'giant' of the times: the top-hatted engineer and architect, Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
Photography was also used as a record of travel - another aspect of Empire building. The Rameseum of El-Kurneh, Thebes by Francis Frith shows the exquisite fineness of detail in the shadow, texture and light afforded by the process of wet collodian negatives. This scene surely captures everthing that entranced the Victorian public regarding the myth, the exotic romance and the fallen grandeur of the East.