The rise of photography in the nineteenth century had a great deal of impact on the cartoons in Puck, and probably dictated their realistic style of caricature as much as any other artistic factor. "The photograph was part and parcel of a middle class culture" that attended public galleries and also collected small mass-produced photos, known as cartes-de-viste, of political leaders and other celebrities [1]. The inexpensive carte-de-viste had a particularly important role in political campaigns, as they and other trinkets promoting candidates "served to familiarize millions of Americans with. . . the faces and popular images of men who did battle for the White House" [2]. The widespread recognizance of public men places them-- inasmuch as they are represented by their photographs-- in the arena of shared culture to which almost all voters could respond; in this manner the kind of realistic caricatures drawn by Keppler and other Puck artists solidified the links between the cartoons and the world outside it.

James A. Garfield
However, the nineteenth century ways of thinking about a person's representation in a photograph introduces another aspect of Keppler and company's caricatures, and how they interacted with popular imagination. Galleries such as Matthew Brady's specialized in displaying the realistic likenesses of public figures in the conviction that the images "could provide moral edification" to the viewers; the notion "that outer physical features could be clues to inner character" thus seems to be the inverse of classic Italian caricatura which strives to illuminate inner qualities through distortion, and not duplication, of the subject's appearance [3]. In contrast to the ethical lessons presented by the photograph, Keppler's work placed the caricatured subject in costumes or situations which presented an alternative and decidedly less respectable set of clues about inner character.

The physiognomical associations applied to portrait photographs is an indication of the public's awareness of "'image', of social self-representation" [4]; when political operatives distributed their candidate's carte-de-viste among the crowd they were distributing a tool deliberately engineered to convey whatever personal qualities the candidate wished to emphasize to the viewer. Keppler's caricatures are an example of self-image being stolen from its owner and transformed in ways that consequently warp the photo's original message. Due to the widespread currency of photographs and the associations they carried, the artist could exploit the mass production of this form of campaign paraphernalia to great success.

Benjamin Butler

John A. Logan

Chester A. Arthur

Return to "A Popular Medium"


Introduction | A Brief History of Cartoons | Mainstream & Elite Political Culture | A Popular Meduim
"Our National Dog Show" | The Campaign Against Grant | Caricature and the Carte-de-Viste | "Inspecting the Democratic Curiosity Shop"
End Notes | Cartoon Archive | Bibliography