Victorians are not exactly known for their pearly white smiles. Back in their days, a wide grin was regarded as a sign of foolishness and bad manners. So it was only natural that when it came to photography, Victorians rarely smiled.
Another reason for being reserved lies in poor dental hygiene. People were simply not so comfortable showing their teeth because they were lacking some. So instead of saying cheese, they used to say “prunes” not to show their chipped teeth…
Also, it was much more expensive to get a photograph those days than it is now, so people took it very seriously. While now we take hundreds of photos of our Instagram-ready meals without thinking, many Victorians had their photos taken only a few times in their lives.
Finally, technology has its share, too. Even though the time of exposure has shrunk from several hours to 15 minutes by 1839, it was still not short enough for smile-friendly portraits. You also couldn’t talk, adjust yourself, or sneeze. It was quite an ordeal!
However, with high-speed shutters developed in the 1890’s, smiling during a photo shoot became possible, so more relaxed Victorians could finally show off their teeth (or what was left of them.) We’ve collected a bunch of jolly photos from the Victorian era to show that despite all the difficulties at least some of Victorians knew how to have fun!
Class is relative
Tea for two?
Three fashionable young men at Yale, c. 1883
Photo from The Strand magazine, January 1892, of two women making a Snow Lady
Tsar Nicholas II, 1899
Even Queen Victoria smiled at least one time!
Passport photos from the 1890s