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Daily Mail 1897 article

Daily Mail, London, 13 March 1897, p. 3

SCIENTIFIC PHOTOGRAPHY

CHEMISTRY OF FACIAL EXPRESSION

Lafayette, the Dublin photographer, who owes his reputation for taking pretty photographs partly to his own merit and party to the habit of beauty for which the ladies of Dublin are famous, has come to London. Yesterday he opened an elaborate studio at 179, New Bond-street, and invited a “Daily Mail” representative to come and see the new fog-dispelling invention, by means of which he is able, inside his studio, to get a clear run for his camera whatever the atmospheric conditions may be outside in the street.

It is an ingenious scheme, on practically the same scientific principles by means of which the air of the House of Commons is during the foggiest weather kept clear of everything objectionable except Little Englandism. The studio is practically an air-tight chamber, except for two taps, by one of which used-up atmosphere is exhausted, while by the other clean purified air, filtered through cotton wool, is constantly being pumped in. So long as the air in the studio is clear there is no difficulty about taking photographs; for the electric light, although useless in a fog, is a very handy substitute for the sun in the dark.

But all this, excellent as it doubtless is, was the merest matter of ventilation, and Mr. Lafayette seemed to attach so great an importance to the invention that it was obvious there were further advantages about the system which the inventor did not care to publicly disclose. To find out what the other unknown uses of the air pumps were, the “Daily Mail” commissioner set himself to explore the premises. He found nothing but an electric installation and A LOT OF BOTTLES filled with chemical substances. The evidence did not seem to throw much light on the secret, but such as it was he took it to a scientific gentleman of great insight, and laid all the ascertained facts before him. The scientist considered a minute or two, with his chin in his hand. Suddenly a light came into his face. He jumped up from his chair, and shaking his visitor by both hands, exclaimed, “By George! We often wondered, and now I think I know.”

“Know what?”

“Wait a moment. Let us be calm, and make sure of our facts. You say that the studio is an air-tight chamber?” — “Yes. Mr. Lafayette said so himself.”

“And that there is one pump for pumping air our and another pump for pumping air in?”

“Yes, certainly”. 

“And that there are various kinds of chemicals on the premises?” — “Yes; no end of them, in bottles.”

“You cannot say what chemical substances you saw?” — “No.”

“A pity” a great pity! You should have been more observant. As it is, the evidence is not complete, but it leads me to believe that Mr. Lafayette has hit upon one of the great scientific discoveries of the age.”

“I felt sure that there must be something more in it than ventilation; but what is the discovery?”

“The discovery,” said the professor, solemnly, “is nothing less than the chemistry of facial expression. From what you tell me I imagine that Mr. Lafayette, whom I know for a MAN OF SCIENCE has discovered it. If he has not, you and I, my dear young friend,” — and the professor again warmly shook the reporter’s hand — “you and I may congratulate ourselves that we have. Your fortune is made, my dear young friend. My name, sir, my name is famous.”

“But whatever is the discovery? You haven’t told me yet. Please tell me. It’s half my discovery, you know.” — “So it is, so it is, my dear young friend. But be calm, be calm. Let me explain. Have you ever noticed the perfect expression Lafayette manages to get into his photographs? The sweet expression on the faces of the ladies he photographs, for instance. You must have noticed that.”

“Yes,” said the “Daily Mail” discoverer. “I think I have. But I supposed it was due to the charming complacency of the Dublin girl.” — “Not at all. The Dublin girl is no sweeter than the London girl. The explanation is not racial, but scientific.”

“What do you mean?” — “I mean only this. I do not go so far as to say it is so. I only suggest what may be — that Lafayette has hit upon a plan for the chemical induction of desirable photographic expression. You know what it is like when you are having your photograph taken. The man says, ‘Look pleasant,’ and jabs a thing into the back of your neck, with the result that when your photograph comes out you look as if you were having your hair cut. Now, suppose that, instead of saying ‘Look pleasant’ or ‘Charming weather,’ or any other banality, the operator, having the atmospheric supply under control and the necessary CHEMICAL SUBSTANCES HANDY, were to turn a valve and let in a proportion of nitrous oxide — laughing gas, you know — what would be the result? You would immediately feel pleasant and look amiable. Do you see the idea?”

“Perfectly.” — “Well, then, you will readily follow its possible developments. It is not every one who wants to look pleasant in a photograph. Take my own case, for instance. I missed my election to the fellowship of the Royal Society simply because m y published photographs make me look like a low comedian. I cannot help it. But whenever I sit down to have my photograph taken with proper scientific accessories — a laboratory table, a glass retort, a set of test tubes with a quill pen and a manuscript book — of course I want to look studious and decorous, and — well, intellectual. But, somehow or other — it is a horrible misfortune of mine — as soon as the operator puts up his hand to remove the cap from the lens it makes me laugh, and being clean-shaven, I come out like Mr. A. Roberts telling a humorous anecdote, with the result that I have to spend hundreds of pounds buying up all the photographs any blackmailing photographer likes to print. But suppose instead of saying ‘Don’t move,’ the photographer were to just set his exhaust pump at work and partially exhaust the atmosphere of the chamber, I should have no inclination to laugh, and my photograph — the difficulty of breathing aiding my natural expression — would come out with a proper air of INTENSE INTELLECTUALITY.”

“It would be better, certainly.” — “Of course it would, and the idea is capable of universal application. Suppose we are photographing an actress, for example, whose characteristic is vivacity. It is no use asking her to look vivacious. She will only look anxious. But if you force oxygen into the atmosphere of the studio her expression will be automatically vivacious. Her picture will come out bubbling over with life. And a decadent poet or a romantic actor or anyone whose business compels him to look picturesquely pessimistic. All you have to do is to turn on a little sulphuretted hydrogen, and the photograph will almost seem to sniff. Then suppose you have a husband on a holiday in Cattle Show week who wants to send a staid photograph home to his wife; carbonic acid gas will have the desired moderating effect on his appearance. My dear young friend, it is a great discovery we have made. I do not say Lafayette has hit upon it, but I have often wondered how he managed to get such excellent expression into the faces of his sitters.”

RH - Laughing gas is nitrous oxide, a gas used recreationally since the late eighteenth century. It produces euphoria, relaxation and hallucinations. It is used in medicine for anaesthesia and pain relief.

Arthur Roberts (21 September 1852 – 27 February 1933) was an English comedian, music hall entertainer and actor. He was famous for portraying the pantomime dames and later for his comic characters and "gagging" in farces, burlesques and musical comedies.