Why Aren't People Smiling in Old Photos?
A curled black and white photo of my grandfather (on my mom’s side) and four other people hangs on my refrigerator. I stumbled across the photo when I was moving a few years ago. It’d been stored in a cedar chest for decades.
Mom knew a little about the photo. My grandfather was a custodian at her high school, and she said the photo was taken in the boiler room at the school. The other four men in the photo are presumably his coworkers.
Several of them have slight smiles on their faces, including my grandfather, and a couple have huge grins. The grins make me wonder if they were up to something that day.
Since finding the photo, I’ve been struck by the fact all of them are smiling. I’d say this photo is from the late 1940s or early 1950s. I wasn’t sure if people had begun to smile in photos by then or not. So many old photos (and paintings) depict people with a deadpan expression.
So I did a little research. According to a Time article, people may not have smiled in old photos for one or more of the following reasons:
As social norms changed and amateur photography (think snapshots) took off, it’s believed that people wanted to be portrayed differently in photos. Eventually, Kodak began to encourage people to capture happy moments, so smiling would understandably be the best way to do that.
The article goes on to say smiles didn’t start appearing in photos until the 1920s or ‘30s. So by the time the photo of my grandfather and his work buddies was taken, smiling would’ve been more of an accepted practice than in previous generations.
What’s the point?
Social norms change over the decades and generations. But as is often the case, it’s better not to judge a book by its cover, or a photo by its lack of smiles.
4/28/2022 10:53:10 am
Very interesting, Lee. I've often wondered why people were so solemn in old photos.
4/28/2022 12:10:52 pm
Me too! That's why I had to check into it a little more. Makes perfect sense once you realize what they were thinking.
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