Prices for ‘Likenesses’ Run From Twenty-Five Cents to $500 in Toronto

Toronto Star Weekly/May 29, 1920

You can pay as much or as little as you wish for a photograph in Toronto and you can have it look as much or as little like you as you wish to.

Strange to say, the less accurate reproduction you want, the more it costs. For twenty-five cents on Yonge Street you can obtain a perfect rogue’s gallery likeness while you wait. Every facial attribute will be as plain and distinct as in a life mask. It will be an exact reproduction. But we are not a beautiful race, the unfair sex at least, hence the existence of the artistic photographer.

The announced aim of the artistic photographer is to photograph personality. That is flattering. We observe the wonderful-looking men whose photograph personalities illuminate the windows of the artistic photographers and smile. Perhaps our personality when photographed will look like that.

But you cannot get your personality photographed for twenty-five cents. It costs nearer twenty-five dollars for three good-sized reproductions of a personality. But it is worth it if the photo really shows the true personality.

Showing a personality, as far as we are able to discover, consists in revealing with great clearness the features of people with attractive, good-looking faces and very kindly blurring the rather undesirable countenances of the rest of us. Our own personality is very unkindly concealed behind our face. We have always esteemed it a great privilege to be behind our face rather than in front of it. However, on viewing the wonderful-looking creatures in the window, we thought that perhaps the photographer could do something for us.

So we awaited the proofs with great expectations. There did not seem to be anything very mysterious about the way the photographer took the picture. We sat on a chair and turned when bidden. He arranged some screens for the lights and capped and uncapped the muzzle of the big camera. We were astounded at his consummate artistry. Personalities revealed with that simplicity of technique. It was astounding. We awaited the proofs. As we passed out we stole another glance at the man on the wall with the Eugene O’Brien “Chase me and I won’t run” look in his eyes. Perhaps we might even look like that.

Then the proofs came. It was terrible. We have no personality. It was just the face. Blurred artistically to be sure, but the same old face. The same homely but honest countenance that has stared reproachfully at us out of a thousand shaving mirrors looked at us from the proofs.

“You can’t get away from me,” it seemed to say. “You can blur me all you want to. But I’m the same old face.”

As we passed out with the proofs of our personality under our arm we gazed resentfully at the beautiful men on the walls. Evidently the photographer had something to work on there.

There is an innovation in photographing being introduced into Toronto now that holds out hope even for those with a countenance that defies the blurrers of art. The latest fad is miniatures which are painted from photographs and cost from two hundred to five hundred dollars.

In a miniature there is room for latitude. After the artist has blocked in a representation of the subject’s facial troubles the subject should be allowed to make suggestions. If your nose is not to your liking, tell the artist so and have the type of Greco-Roman proboscis that you admire included in the miniature.

If you have big ears, suggest to the artist that he reduce the ears to half a column. Select your own type of mouth. In this way we will be able to get a picture of ourselves that really pleases us.

That is the trouble with photographs, even the blurry ones, they are too blamed accurate.

(Source: William White, ed. Ernest Hemingway: Dateline: Toronto. Simon and Schuster, 2002.)