We’ve never seen anything like this from the 19th century before!
We don’t often think of the 1800s as a time of photo essays, but one photographer in Australia in the 1860s produced a very memorable set that highlighted the perils of drinking in this unique photo series.
The series of 5 photographs could have been intended as a comical project that photographer Charles Percy Pickering was hired to do. These photographs were produced in Australia between 1863 and 1868, “Photographic Artist. C. Pickering” is printed on the reverse.
Gone from upstanding to goofy, this series illustrates how one could go from sober to dangerously drunk. Unchecked consumption of alcohol gained visibility in the 1800s as distilled spirits became more popular and the ills of society were increasingly blamed on drink.
It seems likely that these photographs were commissioned from Pickering by one of the many groups in Australia at the time that were part of the Temperance Movement. The Sons of Temperance and the Order of Rechabites were both very active in Australia the mid to late 1800s, as were Temperance groups across England and the U.S.
More and more drinking came to be seen as one of the many perils of the modern world and a hinderance to the evolution of society. Temperance groups sought to illustrate the detrimental effects of drinking and photos like these could have been one of the ways they achieved that end.
We may never know the full story behind these photos, but we do know that Pickering retired from photography in 1875 after what was a rocky career. This photo series remains as a record of his work and a stark reminder of how many people saw the world in the 1800s.