Photography has long been used as a tool for journalists, artists, marketers, and organizations to convey messages of realism and truth. The Photographers Association of America once explained that people “believe what the camera tells them because they know that nothing tells the truth so well.“
Understanding the persuasive effects of photographic imagery, temperance groups of the 1860s harnessed its power to ‘educate’ people about the dangers of drinking alcohol. One such group commissioned the English-born, Australian photographer, Charles Percy Pickering, to capture what is believed to be a series of staged photographs depicting “The Five Stages of Inebriation.”
The photographs were most likely commissioned sometime between 1863 and 1868, by an Australian temperance society who opposed the consumption of alcoholic drinks. In addition to serving as an educational tool, the hilarious photographs may have been used by an engraver for illustrations that advocated for the passage of the “Drunkard’s Punishment Bill,” put forth by the Premier of New South Wales, James Martin.
The Five Stages of Inebriation
“The Five Stages of Inebriation” depicts the evolution of a rather dapper (and sober) gentleman to a disheveled drunkard passed out in a wheelbarrow. What can I say, some of us have been there!
Albumen Print Photographs
The photographs are examples of albumen print photographs―images printed on paper with the aid of egg whites!
Albumen comes from the white liquid of an egg. Egg whites were stirred with salt, then applied to paper to bind photographic chemicals to its surface. This technique produced a more detailed image than simply painting chemicals on to the paper.
In fact, this technique was so popular that in October, 1866, it was estimated by the British Quarterly Review that England used some six million eggs annually in the production of albumen paper. That’s a lot of eggs.
When scrolling through the five stages of inebriation, I have a feeling these photographs might not have had quite the effect the temperance society wanted!