It is not often I come across early photographs that capture pure joy like this one does. Too young to find the serious appeals of the photographer’s command to “keep still” anything other than funny, this infant boy’s laughter dominates the image and projects a good sense of fun about the activity of having one’s photograph taken.
Due to the blurred movement in the image this negative would have been considered a ‘dud’ by the photographer and perhaps the client too – though it is a nice relaxed shot of the woman. Yet it was retained amongst the Berry & Co. studio’s negatives and not thrown away or scratched (a practice often employed by photographers to stop anyone printing from a negative they were not happy with).
The client’s name was not recorded on the negative – a further sign that this negative was unwanted (yet not thrown away). It is interesting to compare it to what was regarded as the successful image from the session which shows the woman more determinedly holding the boy who nevertheless retains his enjoyment of the photographic session (there are two more images of the boy at the end of this post).
It is perhaps by chance rather than intention that the image of the boy laughing is now regarded as an artefact. An exhibit, for better or worse, of what the historian Eric Hobsbawm (who died earlier this month) might have referred to as ‘people’s history’ – the conveyance of stories and images that explore the lives of the common man, woman and child with emotional resonance. The haphazard survival of this set of negatives is an example of the remarkable way that photography enters and informs history.