Pioneer life in the Benton Co. WA area
Photography-Car Visit/Excited Subjects Needed Steel Nerves
By BURTON 0. LUM
Sunday, 12 November 1961
The Pioneer Photographer’s Car functioned quite similar to the Pioneer Dental Car. Instead or containing a dental office it held a photographic studio. A skylight was built in a portion of the ceiling of the car. The lights and shadows were controlled by means of curtains over the skylights. The cameras used by these pioneer photographers were of Civil War vintage. These cameras took good pictures of landscapes or non-moving objects. They were not so easily used when moving objects were taken. It seemed to take a very slight movement of the object being photographed to cause a blur in the picture.
The chemicals used to sensitize the glass plates on which the light imposed the image was slow in action and took much time for exposure. This holding still caused the expressions on the faces to become set and the body postures to be stiff. The old family album did not compliment your relatives. Your Aunt Mary’s nose did not really look as though she was smelling something. It was just something in the picture that gave you that impression. Uncle John was not actually cross-eyed. His head had been held by an unseen steel brace attached to the back of his head. His head could not move, but his eyes did. The picture of your baby cousin Lilly sitting on the woolly rug had her mother hid under the rug and was actually sitting on her mothers lap but mama did not show. The photographer had to resort to this subterfuge because Lilly was frightened and kept crying. The picture of grandpa seated in the large armchair was a very good cartoon. His head appeared small and bald. His arms resting on the arms of the chair with each hand grasping the front edges of the chair, gave his fists the appearance of being as big as hams. His legs were stretched out in comfort toward the camera until his feet seemed to be two feet long.
The studio had many painted drops, curtains, back scenes, chairs and other equipment with which to pose its subjects. One of the most popular poses for the bride and groom had the groom sitting cross-legged in a high back arm chair holding his hat on his lap. The bride stood on the right side of the chair with her left hand laid on the groom’s right shoulder. They both gazed straight into the camera. It was hard to tell in some pictures whether the bride was supporting herself or holding the groom in the chair.
A group picture of the children was always a struggle. When a majority of the children got into the correct position and the photographer thought that he was at last about ready to take the picture, mama, helping on the sidelines, saw to her horror that ten-year-old Willie had a few buttons unbuttoned in his trousers. This had to be corrected at once. It had no sooner been done than little three-year-old Jimmy began to cry and it wasn’t all tears that fell to the floor. Poor, sweet, little five-year-old Mary had lost her large red bow hair ribbon which hid the thread that tied her braid. To cap the performance, eight year old Joe had broken a shoe string and the tongue of his shoe was hanging out. The mother worked feverishly to get everything repaired so that the picture could be taken before nursing time arrived. She was successful.
The photographer finally by using all the tricks of his trade and all the things he possessed to hold their attention, got a correct exposure and took what he thought would be a good picture. - The mother was overjoyed as she would now have an opportunity to have the pictures developed and finished before the car left the sidetrack, The car generally stayed on each sidetrack for ten days in order to finish and deliver all the picturesReturn to Index of Burton Lum Articles