The Reason People Didn’t Smile in Old Photos May Surprise You
So you think Kanye West is the true pioneer of the “I’m Not Smiling” movement? Think again. What he’s really been doing is frowning like he’s bringing 1888 back. Looking at pictures from the past shows us that wearing a poker face was pretty common. Changes in camera technology and social customs have brought us into the digital age of selfies, paparazzi, and angry kittens. While gazing at some of these historical images allows us to time travel, they also make us ask— what was really going on?
As a kid, do you remember having to pose for your class shot on picture day? Trying to keep your face just right as Timmy let one rip and Nikki giggled was enough of a challenge, all while you were holding out for a bathroom break. Those combined threats could set off a chain reaction of mixed facial expressions. But as soon as you’d hear “Say cheese!” everyone straightened up with their winning grins, the camera clicked, and it was over.
Well, during the 19th and 20th centuries when photography was fairly new, it wasn’t that simple. Picture day could be exciting but costly, and the exposure time for photographs could stretch into the double digits. This made smiling a painful exercise. Also, taking a picture was a serious event in itself, therefore formality was a huge factor when capturing special occasions and moments in time. Equally important was putting up a persona. The result? Lots of somber-looking snaps. Yet that didn’t mean that fun and smiles escaped photos altogether. Watch the video below from Vox to learn how folks struck a pose back in the day.
The next time you see one of those old black-and -whites, know that the emotions behind those faces probably had little to do with being cool, sad, or gassy. Instead, be reminded of how photography’s evolution has impacted what we allow to be caught on camera. Pose, click, and post your pic! And don’t forget to smile— or not.
What your thoughts? Do you have a natural preference for not smiling in pictures? Share in the comments below.