- Hajjin:“Photographed from Life”
Sometime in 1867, a dog was “photographed from life” by the wild-animal photographer Frank Haes, best known now for his photographs of animals at the London Zoo, including stereo sets of lions, from 1864, and photographs of the last quagga, from 1870. The photograph of the dog became the frontispiece for a limited edition of a small book, Frances Power Cobbe’s Confessions of a Lost Dog; Reported by Her Mistress (1867), originally printed to thank subscribers to the Lost Dogs Home in Holloway, founded seven years earlier, in 1860, and later known as the Battersea Home for Lost Dogs. Drawing on the carte-de-visite photographic forms that were so popular in the mid-Victorian period, this image exploits the technology and marketing of animal photography; I will use it to explore compassion and violence in inter-species relations or Victorian humanity’s connections to non-human “others.”
In many ways, the photograph seems not to require further elucidation. An unnamed dog, medium sized, sits upon a bench draped in richly patterned fabric and squarely occupies the centre frame of the photograph: it is evidently a portrait of a loved family pet. Like many such photographs of animals, this one is similar to those that, as Matthew Brower suggests, are so recognizable that “our contemporary ways of seeing may cause us to assimilate [them] too quickly to familiar categories of interpretation” (5). The book itself seems quickly readable as central to one such familiar category: the animal story. Marketed by its publisher as part of a well-established series, “New and Interesting Work for the Young,” which included “amusing animal histories” (Cobbe, Confessions, n.pag.) and other natural-history titles, the book further anchors the photograph to familiar narrative forms in the story it tells: a reassuring tale of loss and safe return that underscores the familiarity of the subject of companion pets and the stories that entwine their lives with ours. That narrative tells us that the dog in the photograph is Hajjin—meaning “pilgrim”—and that she had spent four or five days lost on the streets of London before being taken to the Lost Dogs Home in Holloway, where she is, in time, restored to her mistress. Framed as a kind of carte de visite (the camera for this format was invented in 1854), the photograph belongs to a familiar genre, part of the larger trend of photographing domestic animals that had begun in the 1850s (see Harker).
Yet, despite the apparent ease of our reading of the photograph, animals were technically challenging subjects for Victorian photographers and were particularly challenging for the photographer interested in capturing action or movement, as was Frank Haes. The story of the shifting components of that technical challenge—which had to do with the exposure times demanded by changing chemical processes—frames the photograph of Hajjin in compelling ways and allows us to read this deceptively accessible image for what it can tell us about the entangled histories of animal photography and animal welfare. [End Page 28]
Encapsulating that entangled history is the photograph’s caption: “Photographed from Life, By Frank Haes.” The caption “Photographed from Life” was frequently appended to images that purported to capture live action and movement, commonly known as “instantaneous photography,” which was technically difficult work and in keen demand from about the 1850s onward. The form proved to be highly influential in shaping viewers’ expectations of what could and should be caught photographically (Prodger 96), and shaping photographic practice as a result. Photographers eager to respond to the demand for instantaneous photography often resorted to posing “instantaneous” scenes—from jugglers posed with objects on wires to carefully orchestrated street scenes that conveyed movement and energy.
Victorian photographers of animals were eager to share in the lucrative instantaneous-photography market, yet the challenges of animal subjects made the practice difficult. Early nineteenth-century photography, with its long exposure times and cumbersome equipment, made photographing animals that were not captive, trained, or dead very challenging. For the instantaneous photographer, animals were particularly demanding subjects, and many photographers were known to use stuffed specimens—common props for carte-de...