Oscar Gustav Rejlander (British, born Sweden, 1813–1875)
J. Dudley Johnston (British, 1868–1955)
1857, printed 1920s
Image: 40.6 x 76.2 cm (16 x 30 in.)
Frame: 71.4 x 104.2 cm (28 1/8 x 41 in.)
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the National Media Museum, Bradford, United Kingdom
Not on view
The Two Ways of Life was one of the most ambitious and controversial photographs of the nineteenth century. The picture is an elaborate allegory of the choice between vice and virtue, represented by a bearded sage leading two young men from the countryside onto the stage of life. The rebellious youth at left rushes eagerly toward the dissolute pleasures of lust, gambling, and idleness; his wiser counterpart chooses the righteous path of religion, marriage, and good works. Because it would have been impossible to capture a scene of such extravagant complexity in a single exposure, Rejlander photographed each model and background section separately, yielding more than thirty negatives, which he meticulously combined into a single large print.
Rejlander's widow gave a body of his work, including negatives, to the Royal Photographic Society (RPS) in the late nineteenth century. This particular photograph was printed by John Dudley Johnston, the former president and curator of the RPS from Rejlander's negatives. In 2003, the National Media Museum acquired the RPS collection. On the history of the RPS collection,and in particular the history of this work see Pam Roberts, "The Royal Photographic Society Collection," (Bath: Royal Photographic Society, 1994), p. 22.
Reprorduced in Edgar Yoxall Jones, "Father of Art Photography: O.G. Rejlander 1813-1875," (Greenwich, Conn.: New York Graphic Society, 1973), p. 2.