Time: 1888, early afternoon
Character: THE PHOTOGRAPHER, male, 30’s,
proprietor of the studio
Beginning in the photography studio are THE PHOTOGRAPHER; Jonah, his assistant; and Emmeline, his photo subject.
I don’t know. I’m not happy with her.
Jonah, that dress on her’s a bit ill-fitting, innit? Slumps a bit in the shoulders.
(checks all sides of her)
Comfy, Miss? It’s Emmeline, innit? Yeah? Emmeline Pierce. Hello, Emmeline. It’s a pleasure—really.
(stands back, views her)
Postures alright … ish. Sturdy. She really does look like she’s got a pole up her arse.
I’m so sorry, Emmeline. Not at all personal. Just a nature of the business. It needn’t concern you at all. I blurt out things. I am temperamental. You understand.
(to Emmeline) You’ll do.
(a knock at the studio door)
What’s that? Are they knocking? They must be savage to get it.
(to the door) One moment, if you please!
They can wait.
(looks through the lens of his camera) Is this really the best you can do, Jonah? Christ, I abhor this set up.
(viewing the studio set up) This is bullocks. I mean really. I am sick of it. Well and truly. I mean who can possibly be bothered? Up to my bullocks in chemicals half the day. Christ in a perambulator! (takes out a snuff case from his pocket and sniffs) Iodine, nitric acid, mercury. I don’t know my carte de visite from my arse half the time. Who can be bloody well bothered? Why you want to get into this business is beyond me, Jonah.
And then I have to contend with this … (motioning to Emmeline)
Sorry, Emmeline love. Not at all personal.
Actually, it is personal. I’m sick of you lot. I’m sick to death of you lot. Look at you! Just look at the state of you. Look at …
But as I say, nothing personal.
Alright then. May we just— (to Jonah) Yes, I’m fine. Let’s get on with it.
Open that skylight, Jonah. The stink in here’s getting to me.
(looks at Emmeline again) She’ll do.
(to Emmeline) You’ll do, love.
Tell them they may come in now.
(he greets entering visitors—Mr. and Mrs. Pierce—with a bow) Hello. Yes, hello, Mr. Pierce. Madam. Take the two chairs by your daughter if you would be so kind. My assistant Jonah provided pillows for your comfort. And let’s get on with—let us capture your image.
Mrs. Pierce, to Emmeline’s right, if you would be so kind. Mr. Pierce …
Thank you. Comfortable?
(looks through camera lens) Jonah—Miss Emmeline’s hand on Mr. Pierce’s shoulder.
(to Mr. Pierce) It should feel quite natural.
(looking through lens) No smiles! None!
Stop fidgeting—look, this is a very long exposure. Consisting of a series of seconds. Have you had your portrait taken before? Well, it’s a very, very long exposure. I cannot capture your image in the blink of an eye. The light, you see. I need you to not move, not blink, not breathe. Completely stiff. Like Emmeline. Utterly, utterly rigid.
And believe me, I’m aware Emmeline has the advantage here, so … you really must try.
(looks through camera lens) Jonah! Her eyes are closed. Emmeline’s eyes … Flip! Blast! Flip it to friggery! How could I have not noticed? Flip.
(to Mr. Pierce) My apologies. You requested eyes open, did you not?
Jonah! Don’t. Leave it. I’ll draw the eyes in later. At no extra cost to you, Mr. Pierce.
(directed at Jonah) At. No. Extra. Cost.
(looks through camera lens) Right. Quite stiff, please. And—who is humming “Barbara Allen”? Could you not … please.
Yes, Mrs. Pierce? I beg your pardon? … Right, I’m going to stop you straight away at “My cousin had a baby that …”—alright? I don’t do little ones. I don’t do kiddies. Right? Yes, I used to—thank you, Jonah—I used to. Now I don’t. I do the older ones. Age 13 and upwards. They’re adults. Marriageable.
Yes, Jonah, I know the money’s in the little ones. Worried about redundancy, are you?
Yes, but I have to insist, Mrs. Pierce … No thank you … I will not photograph your cousin’s … Why? Well, you try photographing your own son dead after only one year of his life.
(he stuffs his head under the cloth hood of the camera, pops head out again)
Will you pose, please? Quite stiffly.
I am ready to make the exposure.
(behind camera, under the hood, he counts) One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten.
(he pulls hood off as if he is suffocating, stares at Emmeline for a moment, transfixed, then breaks the stare)
copyright © 2010 K.D. Halpin. All rights reserved. ___________________________________________
K.D. Halpin is an Irish/American writer residing in Massachusetts and Northern Ireland. Plays she has co-authored with Sleeveless Theatre have been toured throughout the U.S. Her plays Weird Without Apology and Sin Eaters have been performed/stage-read in Northampton, MA and Belfast, N.Ireland.