City, views and portraits: from the streets to the photographic studios of the first half of the 20th century

From the famous view of the Boulevard du Temple in Paris, captured in 1838 by Daguerre, to the postcards and albums illustrated with views of the city that proliferated in the early 20th century, the image of the city has been repeatedly seen through the photographic lens, as o attests to the vast bibliography in this category that we could call “city photography”: from Walter Benjamin to Jane Tormey, to name just two examples. However, more than collecting city views and remembering this historical relationship between photography and topography – see, in this context, the contribution of Rosalind Krauss, with Photography’s Discursive Spaces: Landscape / View -, however, interested us in the scope of Stroll, approaching the interior of the photographic studios of the first half of the century. XX and understand the role of this popular and urban photographic practice in social interaction and in the daily experience of the city and its crowds at the beginning of the century. XX. Through an exploratory bibliographic collection, a consultation of photographic collections and interviews, we wanted to reach the interiors of the photographic studios in their golden age and, in particular, revisit the history of some photographic studios in the cities of Braga and Ponta Delgada.

This other category, which puts photographic studios in tandem with the city’s stores and storefronts, the theaters that proliferated in the city and its attractions, could be called “photography in the city”. Portrait photography studios, often family businesses set up in an urban context, were a social gathering place in the first half of the twentieth century, the importance of which is well anticipated by the itinerary of portrait studios in England, Scotland, France, Prussia and Austria that H Baden Pritchard did in 1882 at The Photographic Studios of Europe. Several historians of photography have devoted their gaze to the interior of these studios, referring to the ostentatious array of accessories and the wide range of tricks that made photographic studios in the first half of the century. XX real show houses: Walter Benjamin, Gisèle Freund, and with special emphasis, Heinz Henisch and Bridget Henisch, refer to easels, columns, curtains, embalmed exotic animals, painted canvases and scenery, tables, armchairs, easels, plants, and the appuie-têtes, the devices that allowed the subject to remain motionless during his pose. A good overview of these aspects is also given to us by the recently refurbished and reopened Madeira Photography Museum – Atelier Vicente’s in Funchal, which, through pieces of furniture, props, scenarios, laboratory material and cameras, gives us a unique portrait of what would be the interior of a photographic studio at the turn of the century in the national context.

In March 2019, Passeio interviewed photographer Luís Machado, in Braga, in order to explore some of these routines and practices in photography houses. The photographer from Braga joined photography in the 1960s, at the age of 10, as an employee of Foto Artine. He worked in other houses such as Foto Chic and for 40 years he also worked as a photojournalist. In 1985, he opened Foto São Vicente, where he still works today. He keeps the habit of collecting at an early age, having a collection of about 800 cameras, dated between the end of the 19th century and up to current cameras – part of which came from photographic studios in Braga. The collection also includes negatives and accessories used by photographers and photography houses throughout the 20th century.

The interview was conducted in a kind of mini-museum where Luís Machado keeps his collection organized, which is next to Foto São Vicente, on Rua de São Vicente, in Braga. Although he worked from the second half of the century, he visited some of the old studios, lived with photographers of the time and recalls these experiences, in addition to some of the routines and practices that remained in progress in the houses where he worked.

In Ponta Delgada, in April 2019, we interviewed Ana Nóbrega, who continued the photo studio of her Madeiran father, who in the 1940s, with the intention of emigrating to Brazil, however, will have stayed halfway, establishing himself in the westernmost Portuguese archipelago. Foto Nóbrega, installed in 1943 at nº 74 of Rua Machado dos Santos, the street that at the time was the main shopping street in the city, Broadway in Ponta Delgada, as it was ironically dubbed, closed in August 2018. Once with a special taste for the manual retouching of the photographs and with a particular talent for “inserting movement” in the layout of portraits and advertising compositions, Ana Nóbrega received us in the living room of her house, surrounded by the oil paintings she also paints.

Although the photographer prefers to receive us there, it is in the studio of the now pale Rua Machado dos Santos, a few blocks away, which, in addition to the old shopping center in which it operates and which is also owned by the Nóbrega family, stores the Casa Fotográfica Nóbrega, composed not only by the collection of photographer Gilberto Nóbrega, but also by the collection of Foto Toste. According to a report by the responsibility of the Cultural Institute of Ponta Delgada, dated 2014, which was given to us by Ana Nóbrega, this collection, which would not be “in ideal conditions of conservation”, kept in rooms with infiltrations, without isolation and without ventilation or refrigerated and improperly packaged, it had a vast and valuable set of glass and film negatives, proof albums and handwritten books to date: from Nóbrega Photography, there would be over 800 thousand negatives and from Foto Toste, more than 30 thousand negative. Ana Nóbrega also advanced during our conversation that negotiations with the Government of the Azores would be underway so that the said collection would, very soon, be under the tutelage of the latter.


The photo studios of Ponta Delgada

The history and memory of the photographic studios in Ponta Delgada has already been the object of systematic work and mapping of photographic collections carried out within the scope of the Azores Image Archive, the result of the MEDIAT and CINEMEDIA projects, ongoing between 2003 and 2008. A From this archive, a work published in 2011, in this scope, by Carlos Enes, A Fotografia nos Açores, and also from the Digital Photographic Archive of the Cultural Institute of Ponta Delgada, we realized that the practice of photography in the archipelago was favored not only by the crossing between the islands as well as by the itinerancy of photographers from both sides of the Atlantic: Europe and America.

The Photographia Artistica studio was opened in 1870 at 19 da Rua da Esperança (now Rua Gil Montalverne de Sequeira), in Ponta Delgada by the Franco-Portuguese António José Raposo, a photographer taught by the Swedish painter and photographer MJ Schenk and by the photographer German Carl Fredrich Johann Reeckell. In his studio portraits, which open the cloth over the faces and family ties of the century. XIX and XX, the effort of sober staging is notorious: dignified poses, serious looks, well-groomed clothes and discreet decorative details make up the cartes-de-visite and cabinet cards that make up this collection.

Third-party José Pacheco Toste was a traveling photographer until he established himself with his studio Photographia Central, which would later be called Foto Toste, in Rua do Valverde in Ponta Delgada. His daughter, Maria das Dores Amorim Toste, who traveled with him to the USA in 1900 to perfect his photographic methods, will take care of the studio, together with her husband, Jacinto Óscar Dias Rego, reputed to have made the first film shot. in São Miguel, a film that is still missing.

Ana Nóbrega, with whom we spoke, daughter of photographer Gilberto Nóbrega, the photographer who acquired the Foto Toste studio and estate in the 1950s, believes that Jacinto Óscar Dias Rego’s film, when transporting the Foto Toste collection to Rua Machado dos Santos, will have been lost, perhaps “lying in the trash” by the employees. Gilberto Nóbrega, the first owner and photographer of Foto Nóbrega was a successful pioneer: as the press often reports, and as Ana Nóbrega confirms, he himself conceived the lighting for his studio, built a device to transfer photography to a slide or São Miguel’s first color photography studio was set up. Reaching more than 30 employees, Gilberto Nóbrega captured the views of the archipelago, recorded its most important events, devoted himself to portrait production and advertising photography, edited postcards and several times exhibited his photographic works.


The photo studios of Braga

In Braga, we find a greater number of photographic studios, as well as photographers. From the information systematized by the Nogueira da Silva Museum and the Image Museum of Braga, it was possible to draw a panorama of this production. Among the main houses in activity during the period were Foto Aliança (founded in 1910) and Casa Pelicano (founded in 1929), whose photographic remains are in the care of the Image Museum. The museum has a collection of 210,000 old films, organized into thematic archives that include family portraits, the use of backdrops and furniture in the composition of the image, post-death photographs, as well as images of saints, nature, engravings, among others.

The Nogueira da Silva Museum houses another important collection, which includes part of the estate of photographers Manoel Carneiro (1866-1909) and Arcelino Augusto de Azevedo (1913-1972). Manoel Carneiro was the owner of Casa Carneiro, an establishment dedicated to selling various products and which included postcards with photographs of Braga. The house was opened by his father, Bernardo Carneiro, in 1865, at Rua do Souto. However, it did not constitute a photographic house, escaping the objectives of this work. His photographs speak more about the city’s architecture than about its residents.

In this sense, Arcelino has one of the most relevant works of the period. He initially worked at Casa Santos Lima, where he learned to photograph and, from 1934 to 1965, at Casa Pelicano, located in Largo Barão de S. Martinho. The museum’s collection covers its production between the 1940s and 1960s.

A third photographic house, Foto Artine, located at Rua dos Capelistas, was founded in the middle of the 20th century, with no precise opening date, as researcher Catarina Miranda points out. It worked until the mid-1980s. Through this house, we arrived at photographer Luís Machado, today considered one of the most experienced in the city still working in photography.



Benjamin, W. (2012). Pequena história da fotografia. In W. Benjamin, Sobre arte, técnica, linguagem e política (pp. 97-114). Lisboa: Relógio D’Água.

Enes, C. (2011). A fotografia nos Açores (dos primórdios ao terceiro quartel do século XX). Ponta Delgada e Angra do Heroísmo: Presidência do Governo Regional dos Açores e Direção Regional da Cultura.

Freund, G. (1974). Photographie et société. Paris: Éditions du Seuil.

Henisch, H. & Henisch, B. (1994). The photographic experience, 1839-1914: Images and attitudes. Filadélfia: The Pennsylvania State University Press.

Krauss, R. (1985). Photography’s discursive spaces. In R. Krauss, The originality of the avant-garde and other modernist myths (pp.131-150). Cambridge, Massachusetts e Londres: The MIT Press.

Pritchard, H. B. (1882/1971). The photographic studios of Europe. Nova Iorque: Arno Press.

Tormey, J. (2013). Cities and photography. Routledge: Londres.


By Maria da Luz Correia & Fábio Marques

Braga, March 10, 2020


A Passeio presents: Photo Houses – By Fábio Marques & Luiz Daminello

Photo houses – Part 1


Photo houses – Part 2


Photo houses – Part 3


Photo houses – Part 4


Photo houses – Part 5


LOCAL: Braga

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