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.
The stallholder in this photograph sold crabs, lobsters, oysters, whelks and eels. He collected the goods for the day at 5 o'clock in the morning from Billingsgate Market in the City of London. Both he and his wife worked on the stall, leaving their children at home to look after themselves, sometimes until 12.30 at night. When business at the stall was bad the seller added to his income by selling shellfish in pubs, cleaning windows and beating carpets.
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.