Museum-COSTUME FIGURE STUDIES
by E . A. and G. R. Reeve
(originally published in THE AMATEUR PHOTOGRAPHER & PHOTOGRAPHIC NEWS, February 3, 1913)
PUBLIC attention has recently been directed towards the fashions of bygone
days by the Hundred Years Ago ball given at the Albert Hall, and the editorial
comments on this subject in The A. P. and P. N. for June 17th, 1912, must have
been read with interest by many amateur photographers.
It was while taking part in a pageant a few years ago that we began to appreciate to the full the fascination of old world costume and, in almost every case its superior beauty over that of to-day. At a pageant one has such unrivalled opportunities of comparing the two. Many of us have, no doubt, taken part in private theatricals; but then one sees but a few friends in costume, while on the pageant ground one becomes familiar with many faces at the early rehearsals, and how different those faces look when the first dress rehearsal is held! Of the men we need say little; in their case fashion, since the middle ages, has changed for the worse, until low-water mark must surely have been reached by modern masculine attire. But of the ladies in pageant dress, how shall we express ourselves? The charming become, if possible, more charming still, and the others-well, there are no others!
Such occasions as these, together with private theatricals and fancy dress balls,
afford such numerous pictorial possibilities that one wonders why subjects
suggested by them should have been comparatively neglected by the amateur
Among the leading workers of to-day the name of Guido Rey is associated with
many delightful costume pictures of faultless technique and thoroughness of
detail, while Mr. James Shaw's fine -figure studies at Rothenburg remind one of
the work of Meissonier.
It must be remembered that the primary object in this class of photography
is not, as in portraiture, the obtaining of good likenesses of one's models,
but the production of pleasing and attractive pictures. While we would not
for a moment hint that the two aims are incompatible, we have in mind the
remark of a young lady on one of her "friends costume portraits, which at
first sight she professed not to recognize, " Is that really So-and-so? Why, she looks much better there than she does really!
But let us turn from such sweet feminine amenities I to a few
prosaic technical matters.
When selecting costumes to be photographed, it is advisable to consider
what their tone values will be when rendered in monochrome. The colours
of old-time dresses are usually brighter than those of modern garments,
and the loss of much of their charm must be allowed for when arranging
the model. Bright reds, yellows, and some greens are apt to come out
disappointingly dark , although,. of course, such vivid colours can be
efficiently dealt with by using panchromatic plates and a screen. For indoor
work, however, ultra-rapid ortho. plates without a screen, will allow of
shorter exposures, and are to be recommended when absolutely true
rendering of tone is not essential, provided the general effect is satisfactory.
Whenever accessories are introduced, care mist be exercised to guard against
anachronisms. All furniture and other "properties" should be in keeping with the
dress of the period chosen. Mistakes in this respect are not likely to be made
with the chief accessories, but in some of the smaller details it is only too easy
to fall into error.
Just a word on the all too common chiffon "draped" bust portrait. We suppose
its cult is due to two or three different causes. Probably the laudable desire on
the part of the photographer to do justice to a shapely neck and shoulders is one; possibly the pardonable pride of the model in the said neck and shoulders, is another. Or, maybe the photographer feels he would like to be free from the associations of modern evening dress, while a few workers may even think there is something intrinsically "artistic " about this style of portraiture. But, whatever the motive, the results are sometimes artificial and often ludicrous.
A Jovial Monk
With regard to the shape of the finished print, the oval, little used by amateurs now, is very suitable for bust and half-length portraits of ladies in the dress of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. During that period painted miniatures were much in vogue and for these an oval form was generally adopted. As a rule, however, in photographic work the oblong shape is best, and the oval should only be employed when it strengthens the composition and imparts to the subject a daintier and more distinctive grace.
Let us add that those who try their hands at fancy dress subjects will be surprised at the variety of effect obtainable with one sitter and two or three costumes of different periods; in fact, some of our friends have become so wary on this point that they usually preface their remarks about a new print with the cautious inquiry, " Same model?"