Working in a variety of photographic genres, studio photographers created documentary photographs for the government, local businesses, and private clients. They also produced identification photos for official documents and images intended to preserve cultural heritage and local artistry. However, portraiture remained the mainstay of these small businesses, as the photographers practiced both in and outside of the studio, serving celebrities, politicians, and lay people.
For the most part, portraits have functioned predominantly in personal contexts: kept in family albums, placed in picture frames decorating the home, or given as keepsakes and gifts to relatives and friends. Significant personal events such as weddings and baptisms, as well as the Muslim holidays of Ramadan ('id al fitr) and Tabaski ('id al-adha), have occasioned portrait commissions. For these occasions, clients donned new outfits, hairstyles, and accessories, and arrived at the studio ready to immortalize their idealized depictions.
To flatter clientele in glamorized portraits, photographers often supplied cosmetics, such as talcum powder and petroleum jelly, which were used to enhance the smoothness and luminosity of skin. Most employed bright lighting to render skin paler. While honoring this aesthetic preference, however, the photographer took care to avoid sharp contrasts in order to model the face with a soft, warm glow. The same aesthetic considerations came into play in the darkroom. In some cases, negatives and prints were retouched with sharp utensils, pencils, or pens to minimize skin imperfections. Today, many photographers request that commercial laboratories "redden" their color portraits to render lighter, smoother skin that is favored by female patrons.
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