STATEMENT OF A PHOTOGRAPHIC MAN.Taken from "LONDON LABOUR AND THE LONDON POOR; A Cyclopaedia Of The Conditions And Earnings Of Those That Will Work, Those That Cannot Work, And Those That Will Not Work." Vol. III. The London Street-Folk. 'Our Street Folk' part IV. --Street Artists. By Henry Mayhew. Published 1861. Griffin, Bohn and Company, London.
Transcribers note. In the original text two pounds sterling is written in the archaic fashion thus 2l. (i.e. a number two followed by a lower case letter letter 'ell' followed by a full stop) This can be confusing with some computer system fonts and we feel could be confused with the number 21 (twenty one). To make it clearer while preserving the 'feel' of the original, we have capitalised the letter and changed this to 1L.; 2L.; 3L. etc. We have not done the same with shillings and pence thus five pounds, five shillings and sixpence will be written 5L. 5s. 6d .
" I had one fellow for a half-guinea portrait and he was from Woolwich, and I made him come three times, like a lamb, and he stood pipes and 'bacca, and it was a thundering bad one after all. He was delighted, and he swears now it's the best he ever had took, for it don't fade, but will stop black to the end of the world; though he remarks that I deceived him in one thing, for it don't come out bright.
" You see, when first photography come up I had my eye on it, for I could see it would turn me in sornething some time. l went and worked as a regular labourer, carrying pails and so on, so as to try and learn something about chemistry; for I always had a hankling after science. Me and Jim was out at Stratford, pitching with the banjo, and I saw some men coming out of a chemical works, and we went to 'nob' them (that's get some halfpence out of them). Jim was tambo beating, and we was both black, and they called us lazy beggars, and said we ought to work as they did. So we told them we couldn't get work, we had no characters. As we went home I and Jim got talking, and he says ' What a fine thing if we could get into the berth for you'd soon learn about them portraits if you get among the chemicals; so I agreed to go and try for the situation, and told him that if I got the berth I'd 'nanti panka his nabs snide;' that means I wouldn't turn him up, or act nasty to him, but would share money the same as if we were pitching again. That slang is mummers' slang, used by strolling professionals.
" I stopped there for near twelve months, on and off. I had 10s. at first, but I got up to 16s; and if I'd stopped I've no doubt I should have been foreman of one of the departments, for I got at last to almost the managernent of the oxalic acid. They used to make sulphate of iron -ferri sulp is the word for it -and carbonate of iron, too, and I used to be like the red man of Agar then, all over red, and a'most thought of cutting that to go for a soldier, for I shouldn't have wanted a uniform. Then I got to charging the retorts to make carbonate of ammonia, and from that I went to oxalic acid.
" At night me and Jim used to go out with the banjo and tamborine, and we could manage to make up our shares to from 18s. to a guinea a-week each; that is, sharing my wages and all; for when we chum together we always panka each other bona ( that is, share). We always made our ponta (that is, a pound) a-week, for we could average our 'duey bionk peroon a darkey,' or two shillings each, in the night.
" 'I'hat's how I got an idea of chemicals, and when I went to photography many of the very things I used to manufacture was the very same as we used to take portraits, such as the hyposulphate of sodas and the nitrate of silver, and the sulphate of iron.
" When we are not busy, we always fill up the time taking specimens for the window. Anybody who' sit we take him; or we do one another, and the young woman in the shop who colours. Specimens are very useful things to us, for this reason, -if anybody comes in a hurry, and won't give us time to do the picture, then, as we can't afford to let her go, we sit her and goes through all the business, and I says to Jim, ' Get one from the window,' and then he takes the first specimen that comes to hand. Then we fold it up in paper, and don't allow her to see it until she pays for it, and tell her not to expose it to the air for three days, and that if then she doesn't approve of it and will call again we will take her another. Of course they in general comes back. We have made some queer rnistakes doing this. One day a young lady came in, and wouldn't wait, so Jim takes a specimen from the window, and, as luck would have it, it was the portrait of a widow in her cap. She insisted upon opening, and then she said, 'This isn't me, it's got a widow's cap, and I was never married in all my life!' Jim answers, 'Oh, miss! why it's a beautiful picture, and a correct likeness' -and so it was, and no lies, but it wasn't of her. -Jim talked to her, and says he, 'Why this ain't a cap, it's the shadow of the hair, -for she had ringlets, -and she positively took it away believing that such was the case; and even promised to send us customers, which she did.
" There was another lady that came in a hurry, and would stop if we were not more than a minute; so Jim ups with a specimen, without looking at it, and it was the picture of a woman and her child. We went through the business of focussing the camera, and then gave her the portrait and took the 6d. When she saw it she cries out, ' Bless me! there's a child: I haven't ne'er a child!' Jim looked at her, and then at the picture, as if comparing, and says he, 'It is certainly a wonderful likeness, miss, and one of the best we ever took. It s the way you sat; and what has occasioned it was a child passing through the yard.' She said she supposed it must be so, and took the portrait away highly delighted.
" Once a sailor came in, and as he was in haste, I shoved on to him the picture of a carpenter who was to call in the afternoon for his portrait. The jacket was dark, but there was a white waistcoat; still I persuaded him that it was his blue Guernsey which had come up very light, and he was so pleased that he gave us 9d. instead of 6d. The fact is, people don t know their own faces. Half of 'em have never looked in a glass half a dozen times in their life, and directly they see a pair of eyes and a nose, they fancy they are their own.
" The only time we were done was with an old woman. We had only one specimen left, and that was a sailor man, very dark -one of our black pictures. But she put on her spectacles, and she looked at it up and down, and; says, 'Eh?' I said, 'Did you speak, ma'am?' and she cries, 'Why, this is a man! here's the whiskers.' I left, and Jim tried to humbug her, for I was bursting with laughing. Jim Said 'It s you Ma'am; and a very excellent likeness, I assure you.' But she kept on saying, 'Nonsense, I aint a man,' and wouldnt have it. Jim wanted her to leave a deposit, and come next day, but she never called. It was a little too strong.
" There was an old woman come in once and wanted to be taken with a favourite hen in her lap. It was a very bad picture and so black there was nothing but the outline of her face and a white speck for the beak of the bird. When she saw it, she asked where the bird was? So Jim took a pin and scratched in an eye, and said, 'There it is, ma'am -thats her eye, it's coming out,' and then he made a line for the comb on the head, and she kept saying, ' Wonderful ! ' and was quite delighted.
" The only bad money we have taken was from a Methodist clergyman, who came in for a 1s. 6d. portrait. He gave us a bad sixpence.
" For colouring we charge 3d. more. If the portraits are bad or dark we tell them, that if they have them coloured the likeness will be perfect. We flesh the face, scratch the eye in, and blue the coat and colour the tablecloth Sometimes the girl who does it puts in such a lot of flesh paint, that you can scarcely distinguish a feature of the person. If they grumble, we tell them it it will be all right when the picture's dry. If it s a good picture, the colour looks very nice, but in the black ones we are obliged to stick it on at a tremendous rate, to make it show.
" Jim stands at the door, and he keeps on saying, 'A correct portrait, framed and glazed for sixpence, beautifully enamelled.' Then when they are listening, he shows the specimen in his hands, and adds, 'If not approved of, no charge made.'
" One morning, when we had been doing 'quisby,' that is, stopping idle, we hit upon another dodge. Some friends dropped in to see me, and as I left to accompany them to a tavern close by, I cried to Jim, 'Take that publlc-house opposite.' He brought the camera and stand to the door, and a mob soon collected. He kept saying, 'Stand back, gentlemen, stand back! I am about to take the public-house in front by this wonderful process.' Then he went over to the house, and asked the landlord, and asked some gentlemen drinking there to step into the road whilst he took the house with them facing it. Then he went to a policeman and asked him to stop the carts from passing, and he actually did. By this way he got up a tremendous mob. He then put in the slide, pulled off the cap of the camera and focussed the house, and pretended to take the picture, though he had no prepared glass, nor nothing. When he had done, he called out, 'Portraits taken in one minute. We are now taking portraits for 6d. only. Time of sitting two seconds only. Step inside and have your'n taken immediatelv.' There was a regular rush and I had to be fetched, and we took 6s. worth right off.
" People seem to think the camera will do anything. We actually persuade them that it will mesmerise them. After their portrait is taken, we ask them if they would like to be mesmerised by the camera, and the charge is only 2d. We then focus the camera, and tell them to look firm at the tube; and they stop there for two or three minutes staring, till their eyes begin to water, and then they complain of a dizziness in the head, and give it up, saying they 'can t stand it.' I always tell them the operation was beginning, and they were just going off, only they didn't stay long enough. They always remark, 'Well, it certainly is a wonderful machine, and a most cutious invention.' Once a coalheaver came in to be mesmerised, but he got into a rage after five or six minutes, and said, 'Strike me dead, ain't you keeping me a while!' He wouldn't stop still, so Jim told him his sensitive nerves was too powerful, and sent him off cursing and swearing because he couldn't be mesmerised. We don't have many of these mesmerism customers, not more than four in these five months; but it's a curious circumstance, proving what fools people is. Jim says he only introduces these games when business is dull, to keep my spirits up -and they certainly are most laughable.
" I also profess to remove warts, which I do by touching them with nitric acid. My price is a penny a wart, or a shilling for the job; for some of the hands is pretty well smothered with them. You see, we never turn money away, for it's hard work to make a living at sixpenny portraits. My wart patients seldom come twice, for they screams out ten thousand blue murders when the acid bites them.
" Another of my callings is to dye the hair. You see I have a good many refuse baths, which is mostly nitrate of silver, the same as all hair-dyes is composed of. I dyes the whiskers and moustache for 1s. The worst of it is, that nitrate of silver also blacks the skin wherever it touches. One fellow with carroty hair came in one day to have his whiskers died, and I went clumsily to work and let the stuff trickle down his chin and on his cheeks, as well as making the flesh at the roots as black as a hat. He came the next day to have it taken off, and I made him pay 3d. more, and then removed it with cyanide, which certainly did clean him, but made him smart awfully.
" I have been told that there are near upon 250 houses in London now getting a livelihood taking sixpenny portraits. There's ninety of 'em I'm personally acquainted with, and one man I know has ten different shops of his own. There's eight in the Whitechapel-road alone, from Butcher row to the Mile-end turnpike. Bless you, yes! they all make a good living at it. Why, I could go to-morrow, and they would be glad to employ me at 2L. a-week -indeed they have told me so.
" If we had begun earlier this summer, we could, only with our little affair, have made from 8L. to 10L. a week, and about one-third of that is expenses. You see, I operate myself, and that cuts out 2L. a-week.'