It is now such a given for photography to be the dominant medium of illustration in all types of publications that the beginnings of its involvement have faded into oblivion. But the process by which photography came to books was lengthy and accompanied by myriad technical difficulties.

While impressive volumes with mounted originals featuring motifs such as butterfly wings magnified 1,000 times, Emperor Maximilian’s ceremonial armor, military exercises, and aristocratic theatrical performances reached enthusiastic audiences as early as 1860, few people could afford to purchase such publications.

Only when it became possible to reproduce photographs in print, which permitted book editions of practically unlimited copies, did photography grow into a mass medium that would go on to visually dominate the 20th century. But even so, the combination of convincing photography, refined book design, and artisanal perfectionism did produce a broad spectrum of those earliest photo volumes in Austria - of which this is the first-ever public exhibition.