Sage advice for photographers from…
A Vision of Lucy
(Available for preorder)
When photographing stampeding cattle, charging bulls or blazing shoot-outs, use a fast shutter speed
Brides, take pity on your photographer. Matthew S. Brady and his helpers were able to record the entire War Between the States with little more than 1100 photographs. Half that number should satisfy most brides.
Doctors, do not look at the camera like it’s a patient needing help through death’s door. Such a pose will speak ill of you, and it won’t do much for your practice, either.
A man imagines himself more handsome than his photograph; a woman believes herself more homely.
While posing for a photograph spinsters should avoid looking desperate or deprived. A serene smile will show that your circumstances are by choice and not for lack of beauty or character.
I loved writing about old time photography and have nothing but awe for the brave souls who first took camera in hand. It wasn’t just men who battled unwieldy equipment and exploding chemicals in the name of art. Women were also photographers and a few even made a name for themselves. It was these early female photographers who gave me the inspiration for the heroine of my book, Lucy Fairbanks.
Cameras and Babies: an Odd Combination
Since female occupations were not listed on the census until 1870, it’s hard to know how many professional women photographers existed in America before that time. We do know, however, that some, like Julia Shannon of San Francisco, owned their own studios as early as 1850. Julia took the family portrait to new heights when she shockingly advertised herself as a daguerreotypist and midwife. No one appeared to be shocked when male barbers and blacksmiths offered photographs with their other services.
Women had an advantage over male photographers, who were often confounded by female dress. This explains why one photographer advertised in 1861 for an assistant, “Who Understands the Hairdressing Business.” Women also had a few tricks up their leg of mutton sleeves—or rather their skirts. Elizabeth Withington invented a “dark thick dress skirt” to use as a developing tent when she traveled.
Those cheerless faces in early photographs were partly due to vices that held heads still for long periods of time, but that wasn’t the only reason. A tightly controlled mouth was once considered a thing of beauty. In her essay “Why We say ‘Cheese’: Producing the Smile in Snapshot Photography,” Christina Kotchemidova, an Assistant Professor in Mass Communication at Spring Hill College, wrote that photography was once the domain of the rich. Smiles were worn only by peasants, children and drunks. She then goes on to explain that fast shutter speed, dental care and cultural changes began a process of “mouth liberalization.”
Photographers used all sorts of devices to hold a client’s interest. One even had a trained monkey. Another photographer had a canary that sang on command. Mechanical birds were a favorite gimmick and “Watch the birdie” became a familiar refrain in studios across the country.
Magazines and newspaper ran ample advice for posing. An 1877 edition of The Chicago Inter-Ocean advised women with large mouths to say the word “Flip,” although one photographer preferred the word “Prunes.” If a small mouth was the problem the word “Cabbage” would make it appear larger. And, yes, some photographers really did give children laudanum or chloroform to keep them still.
Not everyone was enamored with cameras. One dog owner put up a sign warning “photographers and other tramps to stay away” after his dog had an unfortunate run-in with a tripod.
Did photography have a bearing on the suffragette movement? Indeed, it did, but it appeared to be more of a detriment than a help. The photographs of militant suffragettes or women dressed in bloomers did more harm than good, If you think America was tough on suffragettes, think again. The women’s rights movement was considered the biggest threat to the British Empire. According to the National Archives the votes-for-women movement became the first “terrorist” organization subjected to secret surveillance photography in the world.
Photography has come a long way since those early daguerreotype days. One can only imagine what the brave souls of yesteryear would think of today’s “aim and click” cameras. Now days you can’t even drive down the street without having your picture taken. But as Miss Gertrude Hasslebrink in A Vision of Lucy would say, “Never leave the house unless you’re ready for your close up.”
Meet the Ladies of Rocky Creek