Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Say Cheese!

I'm looking at photos from Bundaberg, Queensland today.

An account with the name srv007 has a fantastic collection of old photos.  

A few of the photos are very old.  Like typical very old photos, the people in them look serious and creepy.  

Here's an example.  

I remember hearing reasons for this creepiness, but forgot what they were.  So I googled.

This Ohio history blog has some theories.  

One idea is that, in those days, it took a long time for a photo to be taken, and the participants were required to sit very still. The serious looks may be looks of frustration and discomfort. The children in the photo may look pissed off because they ARE pissed off.

Shirley Wajda, a commenter who's also a history blogger, doesn't quite agree with the blogger's theories.  She gives lengthy complicated reasons for this that I understand to a small degree.  Then she explains that the cause of the serious expressions is attitudes towards smiling.  She says: What seems a more satisfactory explanation of all the temperate visages in the thousands of extant daguerreotypes is the emphasis on character and the widespread belief that a smile could be as deceitful as it could be friendly. A forced smile was—and is—a false one.

What about real smiles, though?

Most smiles in portrait photos are fake or forced. But sometimes people are amused by something and the smile is real.  

What if someone farted while the photo was being taken.  Would their not be a few smiles...especially from the children?

It would be fun to find an old photo with people grinning, and wonder what was so funny.   

I just thought of something. When children are taken to portrait photography businesses, it usually takes a lot of effort to get them to smile.    You usually have to do all kinds of silly ridiculous things so they don't look like solemn characters from the 1800's.

So we're really the ones being unnatural. 

I see people photographed in the 1800's as being creepy. If they saw our modern photos, they'd probably think we're the ones that are scary.  


  1. The question of why people in old photos often look creepy is an interesting one. In very old photos from my family people only ever look happy, dignified, or drop dead gorgeous.
    A more recent photo is one The Other showed someone today - a photo on her phone. I didn't know the photo existed but now I do. I will never wax my moustache when she is around again. In spite of the fact that I was waxing when the photo was taken, I still look happy, dignified and drop dead gorgeous. Go figure!

  2. Fruitcake: I guess cameras love you?