The photographer John Thomson (1837-1921) used the 'Woodburytype' process patented in 1864 for the images in Street Life in London, including this photograph. This was a type of photomechanical reproduction using pigmented gelatin, usually of a rich purple-brown colour. The process was complicated but remained popular until about 1900 because of the high quality and permanence of the finished images.
This photograph was taken in St Giles, an area of London with many second-hand shops where the poorest people bought and sold their clothes. The owner of this shop had been ill, and so her stock was limited. Second-hand clothes shops were often dirty and likely to harbour diseases, but this particular shop was unusually clean.
Real or Posed?
The people in the pictures were arranged or posed by Thomson to form interesting compositions. However, the results were often naturalistic because the subjects and surroundings were always authentic.