The Bizarre Ritual of the 19th Century Wedding Photo

TIME

Love had little to do with marriage in 19th century America. It was a formal contract, often economical, and romance was generally an incidental perk. After photography grew in popularity, the stiff ceremony of the event could be memorialized as a Cabinet Card; a style of portrait photography, mounted on card.

Frank Maresca, co-owner of Chelsea gallery Ricco Maresca, began collecting such cards several years ago. But it wasn’t until he began looking back through the hundred or so he had acquired, that he realized almost all of the couples hailed from Wisconsin. “I said holy cow, there’s something really strange about this,” Maresca tells TIME. “On the surface they were all couples, all from an approximately 20-year period and almost all of these cards are from Wisconsin.”

This peculiar coincidence and the strangeness of the cards themselves propelled Maresca to do an exhibition; inviting the public into the strange…

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