Woman and houseplant from Elton, England

What it is:

Cabinet card measuring 4.25 x 6.5 inches.

What I know about it:

Ph0tographer is T. W. Jackson of Elton, near Bury (these are suburbs of Manchester).  Otherwise undated and unidentified.


I am currently reading At Home, by Bill Bryson, a fascinating and entertaining non-fiction history of domestic living.  In a passage about gas lighting, it says the drawbacks include the fact that plants and flowers tended to rapidly wither or yellow in its presence, and that only the aspidistra avoided this fate, which is why it is the most common houseplant to appear in Victorian photography.  That made me think of this photo.  I love this photo for a couple of reasons.  First, it has a charming clunkiness to it, with this woman built like a water heater, corseted and encased in this heavy black dress, seated among rather mediocre props strewn around what appears to be a “studio” slapped together in some back lot.  Yet with all this she’s got a warm smile, like she’s pleased with herself and enjoying the process, so that’s good enough for me.  But mostly this photo is a favorite of mine because of what I feel is its remarkable clarity, giving the scene an immediacy that I often find lacking in photos this old.  I hope that comes through in my scan.  Photographing this woman in the revealing glare of the outdoor sun may have made for a less gracefully artful photo, but all these years later I’m glad for the choice.

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