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.
'Cast Iron Billy', the subject of this photograph, was a driver of a horse-drawn public transport coach, known as an 'omnibus'. The number of omnibuses running the year before this photograph was taken was 1448, with 10 horses to each omnibus. It was not unusual for drivers to race one another.
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.