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Tracking The Evolution of Smiling in Photography Over 100 Years

Have you ever noticed all those old vintage photos of grim men with legendary moustaches standing around a felled Kauri? Was everyone just miserable back then due to having no access to the internet?

Well a new publication entitled “A Century of Portraits: A Visual Historical Record of American High School Yearbooks” has morphed faces together to track the trend of serious faces to toothy grins.

Also, etiquette and beauty standards dictated that the mouth be kept small – resulting in an instruction to “say prunes”

“These days we take for granted that we should smile when our picture is being taken; however, smiling at the camera was not always the norm. In her paper, Kotchemidova studied the appearance of smiles in photographic portraits… She reports that in the late 19th century people posing for photographs still followed the habits of painted portraiture subjects. These included keeping a serious expression since a smile was hard to maintain for as long as it took to paint a portrait. Also, etiquette and beauty standards dictated that the mouth be kept small – resulting in an instruction to “say prunes” (rather than cheese) when a photograph was being taken.”

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“All of this changed during the 20th century when amateur photography became widespread. In fact, Kotchemidova suggests that it was the attempt to make photography ubiquitous and associate it with happy occasions like holidays and travel that led the photographic monopoly, Kodak, to educate the public through visual advertisements that the obvious expression one should have in a snapshot is a smile.

By World War II, smiles were so widespread in portraiture that no one questioned whether photographs of the GIs sent to war should depict them with a smile.

This century-long advertisement campaign was a great success. By World War II, smiles were so widespread in portraiture that no one questioned whether photographs of the GIs sent to war should depict them with a smile.”

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1930
1930

 

1940
1940

 

1950
1950

 

1960
1960
1970
1970

 

1980
1980

 

1990
1990

 

2000
2000

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