Monday, April 7, 2008

Twice Told Tuesday - Photographing Children

"No man can make a speciality of children. The children must
make a speciality of him."
~ George Rockwood 1887 ~

Photographing Children, Etc.
By Forester Clarke - February 2, 1877

One of perhaps the most difficult things under all circumstances that we are called to do, is to make negatives of children from two to four years old -- these sly little youngsters, of just that age too large to sit in a high chair or on its mother's lap, suspicious of everything new, and frightened to death at the sight of a head-rest, perfectly understanding everything that is said or done, but have not the least idea of obeying, or rather cannot be made to mind for love or any number of promises of money, candy, dolls or trinkets, of the thousand-and-one kinds lied about every day in the week.

And it is not surprising, when we stop to think of it, how really ignorant most people are in such things; what idea they have in regard to their children's pictures, and yet how very confident they are that they know fully as much, if not a little more about it, than the photographer himself?

If a child has lived to be two years old, especially if it is the first one, it is too large to be taken sitting, and they have decided to have it taken standing, and if the lady brings with her an aunt or grandmother, they are sure to advise with her rather than ask the photographer anything about it. Sometimes three or four extra hands come along, and all expect to come right into the operating room "and help." In my own practice I have often found it more work to get rid of the extra help, and get the room quiet, than it has been to make the child's picture.

These aristocratic people have an idea that they are perfectly competent to assist, and they do not choose to be slighted. I have had more trouble of this kind from lawyers' and doctors' families than from any other trade or profession.

One doctor -- a very high-minded and high-strung Englishman -- wife, and child, came into my rooms some time since, walked into the dressing-room, laid off their things, came right into the operating room. The wife proceeded to place the child in position, and the doctor, with the idea of making himself useful as well as ornamental, looked around until he got a bell or something else, and then, with all his elevated notions, his English, &c., commenced parading himself up and down in front of my camera, to interest the child, while the mother was holding it.

I spoke to him quietly, told him that was all unnecessary, we should do much better if everything was still until we were all already, and added that I felt quite confident that I was able to do the work; but he took no notice of me or my suggestions. I gave him several hints to sit down and make less show, but he did not take it in that way.

I then said, "Doctor, please be seated; if I need your assistance, I will call on you."

"But, look here, sir," said the M.D., "I want you to distinctly understand, sir, that this is our child, sir; and we want it taken just as we want it, sir!"

"Well, now," said I, "when I come to your office and need your services, I will tell you exactly what I want, and then I expect to follow your directions; but here you come to my rooms for my services; ought I not to have a chance to work without any interference?"

He did not accept my position at all; would not notice it; said, "We came here expecting to, at least, be treated decently, but, on the contrary, you have been insulting, impudent, overbearing, and saucy, ever since we came into your rooms."

I quietly denied the whole charge; he was never worse mistaken in his life, &c.; and he finally settled himself on a neighboring chair. And I made the negative so that they were quite well pleased with the picture; but I have not yet had occasion to call at his office to engage his services.

One of the 'cutest little tricks I have learned, with most of the little fellows that are able to understand at all is: first, to be careful that the mother does not get a chance to give the child a lecture on behavior in the reception room -- a most detestable practice. Who has not been most fearfully annoyed in finding the little things standing or sitting as stiff as little posts?

And then you have first to undo all they have done by talking to them, before you can possibly put them in any half-way decent position. Tell the parents not to say anything to the child about pictures; find out its first name, so you can address it in a familiar way; have your room and plate all ready; the mother and child only come into the operating room. Now, mamma, let me do the talking.

"Well Johnnie, you came in to see mamma have her picture taken, didn't you?"

"Yes, sir."

"Well, mamma may have a seat right over here by the side light, and you, Johnnie, may come and see me fix her head in this little rest;" and he has a chance to see it all.

"Well, now Johnnie, you climb right up here where you can see me -- that is a nice place; I will tell you how I sit my little boy when he comes out here; sometimes he puts one foot right under the other knee -- splendid; you are such a nice little fellow that you may take my little boy's rest, and have your head rested just like mamma; there now, we will see if we can see mamma through here." "Oh, yes!"

"Now, sometimes I count one, two, three, four; let's try that just once more, or perhaps with music."

If the child is one that can be talked to at all, I hardly ever fail of getting most any position I want, and the little fellows seem pleased enough to see mamma get her picture taken.


Clarke, Forrester. "Photographing Children, Etc." The Photographic News, Vol. XXI No. 961, 1877. p. 57. Also available online at [


Gibson, Charles D., Illustrator.
Grandma takes the baby to the photographers. Illustration. Washington D.C.: Life Magazine, c1904. From The Library of Congress: Cabinet of American Illustration. [http: mdb="fsaall,app,brum," prok="" lamb=""](accessed 11 November 2007).


Little Girl Standing. Photograph. ca. Not researched. Digital image. Privately held by the footnoteMaven, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Preston, Washington. 2007

Smiling Baby. Photograph. ca. Not researched. Digital image. Privately held by the footnoteMaven, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Preston, Washington. 2007


Blogger Lidian said...

What a wonderful article - the author was awfully patient with the parents, I think. The doctor marching up and down ringing a ell must have been espeically trying!

April 8, 2008 at 1:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your posting of these old images is really fascinating to me. Can you point me to a good book or site where I can learn about late 19th century American photography, mainly how to date a photo? I have recently received several images that I am trying to identify.

Ruth Stephens

April 9, 2008 at 7:00 AM  

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