In the mid-19th century, when the exposure time for photographs was still comparatively long, making a portrait of a group of people presented several challenges. Someone may move resulting in a blurry image or be captured with an undesirable expression or be blocked by the person in front of them. A composite photograph presented an elegant solution to these limitations. It allowed for each person to be photographed individually in a controlled studio environment, at the end of which the individual portraits were layered onto a single photographic plate through a process of partial exposure of each image. The wet plate collodion process had already made it possible to make more than one copy of an image, albeit at a substantial price. Combined, these factors helped popularize the allure and commercial success of composite prints.
The images in this case highlight early photography’s transition from camera-unique items to print photographs, specifically in the context of Texas government. The Texas Album of the Eighth Legislature marks the first attempt to systematically document officials of the state, including Governor Sam Houston, and was compiled before Texas seceded from the Union. Produced by William DeRyee, the album consists of salt print portraits of the members of the 1860 Texas legislature. The album is particularly valuable because it includes the only available images of several legislators.
It is unclear exactly when the practice of producing composite images of the Texas legislators of each session was first introduced. Most of the originals hung in the Texas State Capitol and were lost in the fire of 1881, including the original of the "13th Texas Legislature, 1873—Liberators of Texas." The composite at the Texas State Archives is a souvenir copy, most likely offered for sale to the public.
The third composite, The "Constitutional Convention," features individual portraits of the 90 delegates to the 1875 convention. After the Civil War, all of the former Confederate states were required to adopt new constitutions in order to rejoin the federal Union. The constitutions of 1866 and 1869 did not go far enough for the Radical Republicans in Washington who were in charge of Reconstruction in the South. The Constitutional Convention of 1875 wrote yet another version that was ratified the following year as the Constitution of 1876. Texas laws are governed through this very same constitution today.
The links shown below to the items displayed in this exhibit will open in PDF format in a seperate window or tab.
A physician and later a governor of Texas, Throckmorton was a senator when San Antonio photographer and experimenter William DeRyee photographed him in late 1859 or early 1860 in Austin. His portrait is one of more than 125 original photographic prints hand-pasted into this rare, printed album published as events led to the brink of the Civil War. An anti-secessionist, Throckmorton is also pictured in the 1861 ambrotype group photo with six others who voted against leaving the Union.
Individual portrait prints
The Archives holds a collection of loose oval prints from the same era as The Texas Album of the Eighth Legislature. Some are exact duplicates of the prints DeRyee made for the album while others are unidentified and may be other officials or members of another legislature.
The original of this composite portrait burned in the Capitol fire of 1881. The Constitutional Convention met in Austin on September 6, 1875 after Texas Democrats determined to eliminate the Constitution of 1869. Delegates included 75 Democrats and 15 Republicans, six of whom were of African American heritage. The new Constitution of 1876 was submitted to the people in an election on February 15, 1876.
In July 1868, Hamilton B. Hillyer had an established photograph gallery on Pecan (now Sixth) Street in Austin. He published his Pictorial Monogram of the State Government of Texas in 1874, which included images of each of the 140 members of the government and the governor, and offered souvenir copies for sale. The large original most likely perished when the Capitol burned down in 1881. The signature stain on the print is evidence that this is the only surviving copy. It includes rare portraits of five African American legislators from the Reconstruction era.