Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy


Theory and Criticism


Sharon Sliwinski

2nd Supervisor

Helen Fielding

Joint Supervisor


This study examines the historical emergence of the photographer by turning to the writings of three important photographers of the nineteenth century: Henry Peach Robinson (1830-1901), Oscar Gustave Rejlander (1813-1875), and Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879). The photographic works of each of these photographers has been the subject of much historical and interpretive analysis, but their writings have yet to receive significant scholarly attention. It is the claim of this study that this archive opens a new set of questions: What did it mean to claim: “I am a photographer” at photography’s advent? How did these individuals come to identify themselves through a new technology, medium, and practice whose identity itself was constituted by a set of contested and competing techniques, aesthetics, discourses, and critical perspectives? Robinson, Rejlander, and Cameron’s texts speak to the fractious field of early photography and to how that discursive field positioned practitioners in novel ways. This study develops a historically specific and theoretically general conceptualization of the photographer, making a case for the ways this figure can be addressed as an object of study in its own right. This study’s focus on the writings of Robinson, Rejlander, and Cameron constitutes an effort to move beyond the well-plowed field of image analysis towards a consideration of how subjectivity is constituted and shaped by photographic practice.