When Nicéphore Niépce created the first surviving photograph in 1826-1827, the process took over eight hours.
The resulting image of the view from his window at Les Gras was blurry and grainy with shadows and reflections in opposing directions. But for the first time the image was captured permanently, and photography was born.
With time and refinement, the process became quicker, so when daguerreotype portrait photographs started becoming popular and affordable in the early 1840s the sitter only had to wait a minute and a half for their likeness to be captured, depending on the amount of light in the studio.
A decade later the sitting time was down to eight seconds or less. One tiny movement, however, could still cause the image to blur.
Some speculate that this is the reason why the sitters in early photographs always looked so bored and grumpy. Have you ever tried smiling for one minute straight without letting your face change?
It was decided that keeping the face neutral would result in a clearer image. But cramp and tensions from holding a pose was still an issue and the tiny movements that sitters made would affect the outcome of their photograph.
Studios started using furniture such as tables and high-backed chairs, not just for clients to pose by or on but to offer support and stability while waiting for the image to develop.
Then around 1855 the Brady Stand became a popular tool. This factory-made prop consisted of a heavy cast iron foot with a height-adjustable metal rod, and a fork on the end with rounded heads.
These stands were placed close to the sitter and the metal rod adjusted to the correct height, whether sitting or standing, with the fork extended so the rounded ends rested against the back of the sitter's head or neck. This helped to keep the sitter's head still and their body composed for the duration of the exposure time.
The stands were named after American photographer Mathew Brady. Brady was a student of Samuel Morse who brought the daguerreotype process to America after meeting Louis Daguerre in Paris.
Brady went on to open his own successful studio and became well-known for photographing leading lights such as Abraham Lincoln and Edgar Allan Poe, as well as capturing scenes from the American Civil War.
Despite being known as one of the best photographers of the time, he did not invent the Brady Stand, but the prop adopted his name in the hope of reflecting some of his success.
The stand did become very popular and was found in photography studios around the world, making the sitting process easier for the sitter and less frustrating for the photographer and fidgety clients.
Some believe that the stands were used in the Victorian practice of post-mortem photography. They believe that a body was arranged in a life-like pose and the Brady Stand used to prevent them slipping during a sitting, but although the base of the stand was made of cast iron, it was not hefty enough to support the weight of a body.
None of the patents or manuals produced for the stands mention their use in supporting posthumous sitters, and the presence of a Brady Stand would indicate that the sitter was alive.
* Sandi Black is the archivist at Whanganui Regional Museum.