~ R.W. Harrison ~
BY R. W. HARRISON
Many operators dread the advent under the skylight of the little baby clothed in outrageously lengthy garments. The dress is nearly always to be photographed, because it is an imported garment, or was worn by its great-grandmother, or for some other equally ponderous reason.
The resulting picture is, of course, almost always ludicrous, being a little bit of an inane expressionless head above a wilderness of lace and muslin, the monotony of which is scarcely broken by a foreshortened view of two little bits of fists at best; but these are frequently hidden or moved.
Meanwhile the operator is congratulating himself that he has got anything at all, for, notwithstanding his rapid plates and shutter, " the little beggar kept fencing with its fists, and screwing its mouth around, and hiccoughing, until I thought it would drive me crazy."
It probably is not known to photographers in general that, until between the age of three and four months, when a baby cries it does so without tears ; neither is there any saliva secreted, and when a baby under that age sits up straight, or nearly so, for more than two or three minutes, it will regurgitate its food, and hiccoughs will set in.
I look out for this. When a little baby comes in I at once insist that the nurse shall keep it on its back until I am ready; then the business part is transacted, and my loaded holders brought out. The necessity for rapid action is explained to the mother, and the high chair is set in place, and the camera adjusted as nearly as possible, and the sisters, cousins, and aunts hunted out, and we are ready for work.
The baby is put into the chair, with its clothes comfortably under it; my lady assistant does this, and with a few deft pulls of the dress, and the use of a couple of small tin clips (no pins) the lace and underskirt are displayed to the mother's heart's content, and the whole monstrosity shortened into the bounds of reasonableness.
She has worked so deftly, holding the baby quietly in such shape, that in the meantime I have adjusted the camera, caught the focus, and put up the plate; then she covers her arm, which holds the baby, with the drapery which is over the chair, and I am chirping at the baby for an expression.
This I don't wait long for, but take what I can get on the first plate, and work for better on the second, and I usually get it. The whole operation takes not much longer than it does to tell of it. I do not waste my time with toys or that sort. Usually, chirping does the work; but when the eyes stray off a white handkerchief attracts best; in extreme cases I use a sharp ringing nickel-plated bicycle bell.
Sometimes the nurse or mother is willful, and declares her baby is able to sit up, etc., and the hiccoughs get started before you are done. In that case a drop of lemon-juice or vinegar on the handle of a silver spoon, touched to the back part of the baby's tongue, will stop the trouble instantly, and a few moments' rest lying on its back will give you a good baby to work on again.
Harrison, R.W. "Photographing Babies. Photographic Mosaics. New York : E.L. Wilson. 1895.
Mildred Williams. Overpeck. Hamilton, Ohio. Card Mounted Photograph. Unknown. Privately held by the footnoteMaven, Preston, WA. 2009.
Not So Hidden Mother. Charles O. Lynch. Card Mounted Photograph. Unknown. Privately held by the footnoteMaven, Preston, WA. 2009.
Six Generations. R.W. Harrison. Selma, AL. Cabinet Card. 1893. Digital Collections : Prints and Photographs. Library of Congress. http://www.loc.gov/index.html : 2009.