This essay explores the role of nineteenth-century studio photography, in particular the popular genre of cartes-de-visites, as a repository of the unconscious desires and apprehensions of modern Latin American societies in formation. Reflecting on the methodological challenges and new possibilities that access to digitized Latin American visual archives present, the article re-evaluates a common assumption in nineteenth-century photography scholarship: that a tension exists between the impulse in democratization of mass-image production and the force of market and consumption homogenization. Arguing for an analysis not at the level of the individual portrait but in those previously unrecognized or neglected visual documents of the work carried out in photographic studios, the essay highlights the critical potential of these new archives as an expression of the material expansion of the visual field, where new forms of subjectivity sought social and political recognition.