Thursday, June 5, 2008


           Some people say that "appearances are deceptive," and others that " the first impression is everything." Although these dicta are apparently contradictory, there is truth in both, and our resent object is to point out how outward appearances react on the success of a photographic business.
In photography more than in most businesses the impression made upon a prospective sitter is of the greatest importance. A shabby exterior, a dark and uninviting approach, or a dingy, untidy reception-room will probably act as a deterrent to the better-paying class of customers. The visitor will go no further than to make an inquiry as to prices, and retire as quickly as possible. This fact is more readily realised by women than by men, and may account for the fact that many women have started successful studios, while men who could turn out better work have failed to attract patronage. To the woman the trimmings are of primary importance, and she starts fitting-up her premises with much the same idea that she has in furnishing a home – that is, to make it an attraction to others and a source of modest pride to herself. Now it is not necessary to go to work in an expensive manner to achieve this end; the only tiling necessary is to start with some definite scheme, and to keep it in view throughout. As the first contact with the public is usually by means of the showcase or window, we must start with that, and endeavour to make it as bright and attractive as possible, and always keep it so. Many places have been opened with an imposing array of plush and gilding, which for lack of care has in a few months become faded and dingy, giving the impression that no business is being done; while others started on more simple lines have by constant change and scrupulous cleanliness continued to attract the favourable notice of passers-by. Supposing that we succeed in doing this, the entrance and staircase, where there is one, should be respectable and well cared for. Dirty walls, with the paint or paper peeling off, worn linoleum, and dirty windows do not lead people to expect clean, artistic work behind them. This can all be remedied at small cost, and should at once be done where such a state of affairs exists. Many old-established photographers have experienced a serious drop in their takings when a rival concern has opened near them, not because the work was better, nor even as good, but because it was put forward in a more attractive way.
           The reception-room is often allowed to degenerate into a sort of rubbish store. Obsolete furniture from the studio, parcels received or ready for despatch, frames, and out-of-date specimens cover the tables and chairs and utterly destroy that appearance of daintiness and comfort which is so necessary to the production of a complaisant mood on the part of the visitor. One old photographer always called his reception-room the drawing-room, and always kept it quite free from business lumber. Even his specimens were kept out of sight until they were required, the comfort of his patrons being apparently his sole aim. Others have made their reception-rooms interesting and profitable by displaying paintings, rare furniture, and curios, which not only served to pass the time while waiting, but which were ultimately sold. While on this subject it may be worth pointing out that the personal appearance of the proprietor and his staff should be as carefully looked to as the other decorative items. Photographers used to have a reputation for slovenliness, and it is to be feared that some still merit it. They should take a lesson from the jeweller and other tradesmen who have to deal with ladies, and not appear in frayed, chemical-stained habiliments, while their assistants should be trained to those habits of neatness in dress and person which are expected to be found in a good-class business. One lady photographer insists on a uniform style of dress on the part of her receptionists, but this is going a little too far. Still, it is better than a tawdry blouse and a faded alpaca apron, which have been seen in studios of some pretensions.
           The studio is a workroom, and need only be kept scrupulously clean and free from unnecessary lumber. The camera and stand should be kept well polished even if of old pattern, and anything in the way of greasiness on the furniture avoided. Velvet and leather chair-seats need keeping in order, as a lady does not like to risk soiling a nice dress. We have seen a lady refuse to sit on a greasy-looking chair, while others doubtless shuddered when they did so. The fittings of the drawing-rooms should be inspected daily, combs and brushes frequently washed, and a white drugget kept ready for use for wedding and evening-dress sitters. If powder and cosmetics are furnished , the pots and bottles should be kept free from smears and dust; actresses may tolerate dirty “make-up,” private sitters will not. Nothing succeeds like success, and if trade is quite the world must never know, for people like to feel that they are patronizing a fashionable establishment, even if they have to wait for their portraits. One of the most successful American portraitists has told how at the beginning of his career he found sitters were not as numerous as he had hoped for, so resolved upon a bold stroke. He filled his diary with imaginary appointments for a fortnight ahead, and declined sitters who would not wait for a vacant date. At the end of the period he had booked more genuine appointments than he had ever done before, and since then he has never looked back. When anything is difficult to obtain people are sure to want it, and when the sitters who had booked told their friends how terribly busy Mr. So-and-so was, they immediately felt that he was the right man to go to. Few British photographers would care to take such a risk as our American friend did, but it is well to keep up the impression that business is flourishing, and that it is only as a special favour that early delivery can be promised.
           One little matter must not be overlooked, that of stationery. We receive many letters upon notepaper the quality and printing of which would disgrace a chandler's shop. When people contemplate patronising a self-styled artist they are apt to judge his artistic skill by the style of the communications he sends to them, and nothing is so, detrimental as poor stationery. We do not advocate florid designs or bizarre colouring the simpler the better but the type should be artistic and the paper as good as we can get in these times. The money so spent will not be wasted. It is only invested, and will return increased a hundredfold before many days. The whole point is this that the photographer must appear to have some self-esteem and confidence before he can expect the public to trust him, and therefore should make as good an all-round show as circumstances permit.

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