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  • Your wedding day is supposed to be the happiest day of your life.

  • So why do these people look like they're going to a funeral?

  • But it wasn't just formal occasions.

  • It was teens, children, and lots of people with mustaches.

  • Why didn't people smile in old pictures?

  • The simplest explanation is exposure time.

  • That's basically how much light a camera needs to record an image.

  • The longer the shutter is open, the longer the film is exposed to light.

  • Early cameras and film did take longer, so the thinking's that it was easier to hold a serious expression than a smile a smile if you were waiting minutes for your portrait.

  • See this 1838 picture by Louis Daguerre?

  • It's blurry because it probably took 10-15 minutes to take.

  • All the people presumably moved during exposureexcept for this bootblack and the guy getting his boots polished.

  • You'd pose for a normal picture and a blurry one came out.

  • But that problem was...fixed.

  • Rapid advances in film technology, as well as commercial availability, made it easier to take pictures quickly.

  • By the 1870s, bleeding edge photographers like Eadweard Muybridge were taking photographs that could split a second.

  • To understand the real reason old pictures were so serious, you have to understand what portraits meant to people back then.

  • Remember, before there were photos, portraits werepainted.

  • They were time-consuming, long-lasting, and one-of-a-kind.

  • That scarcity made the occasion pretty serious.

  • And that mentality carried over to early photographs.

  • Mark Twain, a professional humorist, said near the turn of the 20th century that...

  • "There is nothing more damning to go down to posterity than a silly, foolish smile caught and fixed forever."

  • This is a guy who wrote stories about jumping frogs.

  • But his viewpoint was typical.

  • Take, for example, the oddly popular practice of posing dead bodies for "lifelike portraits."

  • The photos weren't a snapshot.

  • They were a passage to immortality.

  • A record of one's existence.

  • By looking at the exceptions, it's easier to understand why most portraits were so grim.

  • There are lots of smiling Victorians, hiding in photo collections around the world.

  • As early as 1853, Mary Dillwyn captured a boy's smile on camera.

  • Victorians were not constantly miserablethey just usually got serious when they thought a portrait was being taken.

  • As cameras became more common and photography improved, aesthetics changed and smiles returned.

  • Later movies expanded the possibilities of recording real life.

  • Portraiture broke free from the technology and aesthetics of painting.

  • They discovered the possibilities of a new medium.

  • People always knew how to smile.

  • They just had to learn how to show it.

  • So one of my favorite old photographs was somebody smiling, actually comes from an early 1900s anthropological expedition to China.

  • It was taken by Berthold Laufer and the American Museum of Natural History has the photo.

  • Which is absolutely perfect.

  • This photo shows that the attitudes in old photographs really were about aesthetics, not technology.

  • And if you didn't have an idea of a how a photo should look like, it could look like anything.

  • And in this case, that is absolutely perfect

Your wedding day is supposed to be the happiest day of your life.

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B1 US Vox photo early blurry portrait people

Why people never smiled in old photos

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    Rong Chiang posted on 2018/04/07
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