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Mr James Mudd encounters a photographic van in Wales
1860, 15 March
Published in Mr. James Mudd "On the Collodio-Albumen Process" in "The Journal and Transactions of the Photographic Society of Great Britain", Volume 5, No.95, Mar. 15, 1860, p.179-182. In this article that was published at a time of transition between wet plate and dry plate he recounts a trip to Wales where he encountered the photographic van of an amateur.
About noon we entered a beautiful valley, through which ran a mountain stream. To my surprise, in this lonely spot, I espied, upon a rocky mound overlooking the river, the familiar " three legs " of a camera-stand surmounted by a stereoscopic camera. On coming nearer, I found drawn up on the roadside a large photographic van, bearing in outward appearance a close resemblance to that kind of itinerant habitation in which giants, dwarfs, boa-constrictors, and pig-faced ladies generally reside. Two horses, released from the shafts, but retaining their harness, were cropping, at a short distance, the grass that the neighbourhood afforded; while a man, who was evidently there as groom, driver, assistant photographer, and, as the advertisements say, "to make himself generally useful," was toiling up from the river with a pail of water. Over the roof of the van were hung large cloths dripping with water, the contents of previous buckets. This, I judged, was done to cool the atmosphere within. Just visible in the doorway of the vehicle stood a tall individual, thoughtfully polishing a plate of glass. I approached and saluted this gentleman, who kindly asked me to "walk up." These words, as I ascended the few steps that led to the interior, were so associated in my mind with "be in time, positively just going to begin ! " that I mentally repeated them; and for a moment my hand wandered instinctively to the region of my cash-pocket.
I found the occupier of the van an amateur photographer, who was out for amusement and the benefit of his health. With that friendliness which the brethren always display towards each other, we were soon chatting comfortably together. Of course I spoke of the process I was using; and, as I looked round upon the extent of his baggage and preparations, I could not help contrasting the smallness of my equipment with the numerous and weighty articles of his. He was very sceptical respecting the capabilities of dry plates; and when I told him I had taken three pictures that morning, asked me if I was "sure I had them." I replied that I had no uneasiness on that score, as the plates I knew were good, were exposed under favourable circumstances, and therefore could be successfully developed. He still shook his head, and " didn't believe in the dry process." " You see," he said, " I always like to know what I have got."
Well, we drove on up the valley, took some more views, lunched at a small inn, wandered over the ruins of a castle, and turned our horses' heads homewards by the same route we had made in the morning. It was evening as we approached the spot where we had met our friend the photographer. To my surprise, there was the camera with its slim legs clearly defined against the evening sky, in exactly the same position, and pointing precisely at the same object as it did in the morning! I descended from the carriage, and found our photographer and assistant just cleaning up for the day. Their looks were melancholy; and to my question of "what luck ? " I was informed by my "brother" that he had tried all day to take that view and had not yet succeeded. He had been badly treated, he said, by his bath, which had behaved in the most disgraceful manner he supposed, in consequence of the heat of the weather. It was annoying, he added, but unusual quite unusual. He turned his back for a moment; and his assistant, taking advantage of that movement, whispered to me, "Oh! Its always a-doing of it, Sir! I do believe gov'nor would have drowned hisself in it before this, if it had bin big enough, he's bin so awful aggerawated by it."
The principal portion of the day, it was confessed, had been spent in doctoring and filtering this refractory fluid. I bade our friend good bye, and, laughingly referring to his words at parting in the morning, asked him if he found any difficulty in ascertaining "what he had got" during the day ! He looked grim, and defiantly repeated that he "didn't believe in the dry," but added, somewhat more quietly, "he wished he could."
What became of him and his companion that night they were miles away from any human habitation I know not. Whether they drove their lumbering van by moonlight to the next village, or retired within the chemically-scented interior to pass the night, I cannot tell, for I met them no more. This I am pretty sure about: that if our wandering photographer found amusement in all this, he certainly would not find it benefit his health!