The Smiling Victorians

I stumbled on (or perhaps Tumblr-ed upon) across a Flickr group dedicated to collecting images of smiling Victorians. It is filled with typical cabinet cards and tin-types of formally dressed folks posed, but surprisingly they are smiling. I am so used to the dour, serious and stern looks the majority of photos from those early years of photography brought us. These took me by surprise. In my mind I had associated a somber sobriety to that era.

We know that it was an era of strict morals and formal rituals, but in my naievety I had assumed either they were just plain sad or disliked posing for photos. Which of course is a lack of thinking by me, and I assume, others.

We know the low sensitivity of the early 'film' meant sitters had to hold their expressions for several minutes, and an impassionate face is easier to hold.

I had suspended reality because of photography.

It was so enlightiening to see Victorians full of life with smiles and hugs, clearly enjoying their life and friends. It is worth spending time on that Flickr site, it is rewriting history.

So as photographers, how will you write history? If you print or if your digital files magically last, this legacy of photographs will be not only our memories, but it will go to form the understanding of our social fabric.

Paul Atkins.

Link to Flickr group "The Smiling Victorians":

A good example of a smiling Victorian: