Why people didn’t people smile back in the day

‘Smile like you mean it’, the famous lyrics from an early Killers track that have been going over and over in my head since reading an article published on VOXWhy didn’t people smile in old photographs?

Photos taken during the 19th and early 20th century suggest that people chose not to smile, but then again would you? Can you imagine life without your legion of fans on Instagram or being able to tag friends on Facebook and more recently having your trusted selfie stick by your side? – and to top off all that, living in mundane black and white…

Turns out that none of them are the reasons why people didn’t smile (not proven anyway), in fact VOX have a few theories to help us understand people’s smile or lack there of.

Smile | Why People Didn't Smile in old photographs

Technology at the time made it harder to capture smiles

Long exposure times… let’s not forget technology was not at it’s peak in the 19th or 20th century, a camera alone was groundbreaking. But long exposures meant people would have to sit still for much longer to avoid the photo from being blurry. We’ve all been there when the wait time breaks the 5 second barrier, the awkwardness phase begins. It’s still amusing to watch someone hold a well thought out pose for longer than necessary… except when it’s you holding the pose.

Megabooth Pose | Smile

Early photography and it’s more artistic grassroots

Today, photography is a means of recording our lives as they’re lived and a way to share our every move through the mediums of social media. But in the early days of the art, it was indebted to a tradition of portraiture in painting,  a photograph was a frozen presentation of a person. Next time someone paints you (you may have to wait a while), try holding a smile for an extended time.

I don’t know, I think there’s some artistic merit when people sit in the back of a retro mini cooper and flower power beetle and even our iconic London Taxi photo booth.

Smile inside a London Taxi Photo Booth

Early photographs were seen as a passage to immortality

In the 19th and 20th century, photographs revealed the mentality of the time: portraiture was used as a way to preserve the living for future generations.

Erm.. ok, but you can still smile. Counter argument.. happy photos, happy memories – imagine opening your guestbook filled with photos from your wedding, 50 years down the line, and no one was smiling.

Smile | Wedding Album | Wedding Photo Booth

Victorian and Edwardian culture

England’s Victorian and Edwardian eras did much to establish the country’s modern identity, but many of them believed smiling was simply for idiots – although this allegation is hard to prove now.

The next time we do a photo experience at an Edwardian or Victorian themed party, we’ll let the organisers know what the people were really like..

Smile, it may never happen again.

And FYI, I hate The Killers – Smile Like You Mean It