The Posing Question

The maker of this cabinet card photograph is identified on the back as R. T. Jones & Co., 101 N. Gay Street. The studio may only have been in business from 1874 to 1875.  The couple’s style of dress, however, suggests perhaps a late 1870s to early 1880s date.

Posing the client to best effect was a topic of frequent discourse in photographic journals and manuals. For couples, the convention of seating the man with the woman standing by his side emulated the conventions of portrait painting.

In his March 1908 article “The Posing of Ladies” (The Professional and Amateur Photographer), the Austin, Texas photographer and frequent journal contributor Felix Raymer (1870-1924) argued that “the most pleasing effects are those where the position suggests naturalness and not posing. . . . Naturalness is a total lack of posing.”

To achieve this artificial naturalness, the “operator,” as the photographer was called, ought to break up straight lines into pleasing, serpentine “S” curves. This could be achieved by turning “the head slightly in an opposite direction to the body.” Men, whose clothing tended to create straight lines, should especially be posed so as to break up such lines into curves.

Here, the operator’s attempt to break up straight lines and create a natural effect resulted in  an image in which the man and woman, gazing in different directions, appear oddly disengaged from one another.