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Picturing the family
Picturing the family

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3.4.1 Control of the sitter

Figure 11 Jabez Hogg photographing W.S. Johnston
Image 11 Photographer/Painter: Studio of Richard Beard. Subject: Jabez Hogg photographing W.S. Johnston, early 1840s.

Photographers proved eager to model themselves on previous practice in another aspect of their approach to portraiture. The painter potentially enjoyed total control over the portrait: pose, background and expression were all determined by each application of the artist's brush. The painter, in effect, controlled the sitter. It therefore became important in terms of their own professional rhetoric that photographers, too, should be seen to exercise similar control over their subjects.

Virtually every 19th-century manual on photographic portraiture had a chapter on managing the sitter. The photographer's role was to direct; the sitter's only response was to acquiesce. Sitters who expressed ideas of their own became, by definition, ‘difficult’.

Figure 12 A cartoon of a newborn baby being photographed
Image 12 Photographer/Painter: Anon. Subject: Photographing the first born.

Photographers were warned against allowing their own superior judgement to be influenced by the sitter.

In the studio all men are not equal; all men are inferior, for the time, to the artist: but unless he would awe, he must conceal this power by tact and affability.

(Anon, 1884, p.388)