It also suggests that at least one of Hawarden’s daughters helped her in preparing and developing the plates. It is likely that the dark room was on the same floor as the studio spaces. There was a large windowless space that connected the two light-filled rooms; this was usually screened off while Hawarden was working. The darkroom would have required a good water supply. When Julia Margaret Cameron developed her prints, she wrote that she needed ‘nine cans of water fresh from the well’ to complete each one. Hawarden, using a similar wet collodion process, must have taken this into account when she chose the layout of her studios.
When the family first moved into Princes Gate, the rooms set aside for photography had bare walls. However, towards the end of the 1850s, they were decorated with distinctive patterned wallpaper, which featured as a background to many of Hawarden’s studies. In the photographs, the pattern reads as black stars on a pale background. However, in reality, as Charlotte Gere has pointed out, the paper was printed with deep gold flowers, their pointed petals making them seem star-like. The wall covering was heavy and expensive, and was fixed to batons. Hawarden discovered that the starry background was distracting in some compositions. So she had a screen made, which could be fixed behind her sitters. Judging from the gaps visible low down in the screen, it was made of painted wood and fitted onto a moveable base. Occasionally, both the blank screen and the starry paper were included in the composition. In a study of Isabella watching over a sleeping young Clementina, the visual shift from the screen to the wallpaper is elided with some muslin drapery [figure 3, V&A PH. 255-1947].
Back in London, Hawarden had less room to manoeuvre. She and her daughters could not roam about with cameras and hitched-up skirts as they did on their private lands in Tipperary. But they did nibble away at the boundaries of convention. Hawarden manipulated the codes of Victorian femininity to her own ends. Often she placed her young women deliberately on the threshold of the public spaces: in one photograph, a gate in the balustrade of the terrace has swung open. [figure 7, V&A PH.457-1968:443]
This barrier between public and private has always, in other images, seemed impermeable. But this picture makes it clear that the girls could step out and down into the communal space of the square. Hawarden photographed her daughter in no-man’s-land, leaning on the ledge of the balustrade, poised between home and the wide world.