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Until the very late 19th century, people had their portraits taken by a professional photographer because photography was seen as a mysterious and complicated process. People's portraits reflected how they wished to be remembered: their garments, hairstyles, jewellery and the setting all contributed to the sense of self that people wanted to put on public display and record for future generations. These images also mirrored society at large and its tastes and fashions. What constituted the height of fashion changed over the years, and this is reflected in the photographs.
One can only assume that photographs of young couples taken during Topley's early career were sometimes wedding portraits. Photographs of newly married couples would show the husband, usually seated, with his wife standing beside him. He would be dressed in a suit, while his wife wore (what appears to modern eyes) an ordinary dress. Not until the end of the century did white wedding dresses become the vogue (and often the bride appears alone in photographs of this later period).
Military men-whether ordinary soldiers or officers-appear in their uniforms in the Topley "counter books." The ebb and flow of wars (the Boer War and the First World War) can be seen in the number of soldiers and officers in the albums. By the end of the 19th century, when nursing became recognized as a profession, there were images being taken of recently graduated nurses in uniform. The occasional clergyman, priest or nun also had their portraits taken in their vestments or habit.
What is missing in these albums is the working man in his working clothes, the woman in her housedress or the child in the hand-me-downs of an older brother or sister. Having one's photograph taken was an important-and relatively expensive-event, and one dressed in one's best for that occasion. Only amateur photographers might record mundane events. Even so, the Kodak camera was often reserved for special occasions rather than for recording day-to-day life. In 1910, Topley's studio developed and printed a roll of six Brownie negatives for 28 cents, the equivalent of many dollars today.