These trick mirror photos were once thought to be the future of portraiture


These photographs, collected by Connecticut College art history and anthropology professor Christopher B. Steiner, were created using a photo-multigraph or "trick mirror" technique.

Invented by James B. Shaw in Atlantic City, New Jersey during the early 1890s, a photo-multigraph is created by placing the sitter between two mirrors which are angled to produce four reflections of the subject.

By exposing a person's face from every angle, the photo-multigraph was touted as a system which would enable "us to see ourselves as others see us."

%shareLinks-quote="It will be impossible to make our faces appear to the most advantage by a clever pose, for the latest innovation in photography, the multiphotograph, which is destined to become the photographic portrait of the future, will reveal all our defects and crudities." type="quote" author="Scientific American" authordesc="Oct. 6, 1894" isquoteoftheday="false"%

By the 1920s the photo-multigraph was a common novelty attraction at seaside, arcade, and boardwalk photo studios throughout America and Europe. As one author noted in 1931: "People on holiday will readily part with a dollar and a half or two dollars for a half dozen of these unusual five-in-one portraits."

The practice had all but vanished by the 1950s. What is left are thousands of multi-photographs commissioned by portrait-sitters long gone whose images continue to serve as objects of reflection.