Miserable-looking couple

What it is:

Cabinet card measuring 4.25 x 6.5 inches.

What I know about it:

Photographer is T. A. Sharpnack of the Monongahela Photograph Boat.  Otherwise undated and unidentified.


I am currently reading Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi (1883).  Chapter 38 includes an amusingly snarky description of a typical upper-class river town home, including family photos “of dim children, parents, cousins, aunts, and friends, in all attitudes but customary ones … all of them too much combed, too much fixed up; and all of them uncomfortable in inflexible Sunday clothes of a pattern which the spectator cannot realize could ever have been in fashion; husband and wife generally grouped together – husband sitting, wife standing, with hand on his shoulder”, etc.  I chuckled and thought of this example as a reasonably apt illustration, the sort of unfortunate photo that the sitters have to endure taking and the relatives have to endure displaying.  This couple might very well be the jolliest of folks, united in a relationship of unalloyed bliss, but you’d never know it from this portrait.  (Regarding the photographer, Monongahela is a city in Pennsylvania, a suburb of Pittsburgh, but since this is a reference to a boat, it may also be referring to the Monongahela River, which stretches from Pittsburgh into northern West Virginia.  I didn’t find this establishment with a quick internet search, but maybe it’s a boat used as a floating photography studio, possibly the equivalent of a traveling photographer, but traveling up and down the river instead of on the road.  But that’s just a guess.)

4 comments on “Miserable-looking couple”

  1. I love Twain! Thank you for the very apt quote!

  2. I love the thought that this is from a travelling photographer on a river boat! The rolled back ground cloth definitely suggests an itinerant photo artiste. Do you know the book “Street Photographers” by Ghnassia and De Freitas? Concentrates on the apparatus and the photographers themselves but there are some great shots of people being photographed on a street corner with a roll of blind or fabric behind them.

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