If you’ve ever looked at pictures from the Victorian era then you’ve probably noticed that nobody is smiling. Everybody looks so serious that it seems as if people in the 1800s simply didn’t know how to have fun. But these images of a woman smiling and goofing around while taking photos proof that Victorians weren’t as serious as we thought.
Why didn’t people smile in old portraits? Mark Twain once said, “A photograph is a most important document, and there is nothing more damning to go down to posterity than a silly, foolish smile caught and fixed forever. “
The reason people didn’t smile for early pictures is that people related to photography as they would a painting, and if you were only going to be photographed a few times in your life, it was a serious occasion. You dressed in your best and you struck a dignified pose, as though you were being immortalized on a canvas.
Another reason that exposure times were several minutes at the very birth of photography, but by the 1850s times were down to a few seconds. People couldn’t hold their smiles in place for that long. If they did, the photo would have almost certainly come out blurry. And then they’d have to sit for it again.
Once photography becomes cheap and common with the introduction of Kodak candids by the turn of the century, people begin to smile and grin and fool around if it isn’t an important event.