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No Smiles in Early Photographs

The McLarens were not a dour people, but the older portrait photos might lead you to think otherwise - why aren't these people smiling?

Mary Celia and Marion McLaren not smiling

One reason was the technology. Film used in the mid to late 1800's had to be exposed between three and eight seconds, depending on the natural light, to generate the image. Most folks can't hold a steady and natural looking smile for that long. Furthermore, many of the photographers had learned their trade when exposure times were measured in minutes, not seconds. In those conditions subjects had to be held stationary by wooden or metal racks - so the process had become very formal and rigid in more ways than one.

Another reason is custom. Portraits were expensive, you dressed in your absolute best, you were artfully posed by the photographer. It was a formal occasion and formality often precludes levity.  We hope they could smile when they saw the final print.


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This site, A McLaren Migration, is maintained by David J. McLaren - who may be contacted through The Mailbox
Updated July 1, 2011
Copyright © 2005 David J. McLaren, all rights reserved.
Commercial use of the material on this site is prohibited.