When we think of photography from the 19th and early 20th centuries, most of us picture people posing stiffly, without a smile, and looking wholly dour and unreachable — not at all like the living, moving people of today.
But of course, they were. Even the stiffest and most humorless-looking person in those old photos was a real person with a life full of smiles and laughter just like anyone else’s.
The Victorian period gets kind of a bad rep today thanks to its rigid morality and some unusually macabre practices like mourning jewelry made of a deceased person’s hair.
As with any period in history, there’s always more going on than stereotypes would otherwise have you believe.
It’s true that many people didn’t smile for photographs in the early days of photography. For one thing, long exposure times would make your face ache terribly if you had to hold your smile for upwards of five minutes! Getting photographed was also a major event, and an expensive one, making people more likely to take it seriously. Also, dentistry wasn’t what it is today; some may have wanted to hide damaged or missing teeth.
But not all of the photos from the past are super-serious. This fantastic collection shows the lighter side of the Victorian and Edwardian eras, and turns those stiff folks into people you can imagine being friends with.
Check them out below and let us know your favorite in the comments!
At first glance, this looks like a stereotypical Victorian garden photo, but look closer…
You’ll see that the men and women have all switched clothing!
This photo shows a casual side to photography with smiles and relaxed poses.
And the boy and girl here have also switched hats!
And if you were going to pose properly, you could always shake things up by posing somewhere strange, like on a fence.
This photo from 1892 has some people today claiming photoshop. Apparently when it was published in the Strand, people thought it was fake, too.
But it does show that building impressive snow people was something people loved doing, even while wearing a bustle.
And apparently the dance from “Thriller” has roots from the Victorian period as well.
Actually, this is a photo of the then-popular “cakewalk” dance, which started with African-American slaves in the south.
We just hope the exposure time on this photo wasn’t too long. Ouch!
And speaking of holding awkward poses…
These Yale students are posing in women’s costumes in 1883, but they’re men.
Likely, they were performing a play as female characters.
It’s hard to say what exactly was the purpose or meaning of this particular photo, but it’s certainly hilarious!
Despite long exposure times, some people, like this woman, found it possible to hold funny faces for the camera.
And apparently, many women were happy to throw away the proper Victorian etiquette in photos.
After all, who wants to be ladylike when you can be remembered like this?
This might be a still from a movie, but it shows a woman jumping rope, proving that you can actually move in all those clothes.
This candid shot looks like it could have been taken yesterday.
Not to worry; the men got in on the face-making, too.
This gent even accessorized.
Kids were certainly not left out!
In all seriousness, the title of this one is, “Say That Again And I’ll Dip You In.” It was taken in Atlantic City, New Jersey in 1897.
But even with the title, it’s kind of a sweet photo, and captures a couple horsing around on the shore like so many generations after them.
These photos, possibly passport photos, also show the sweeter side of things.
You can see this couple trying to stay serious for the photo, but they just can’t help getting the giggles!
Even royalty got silly once in a while.
This photo, one of several from 1899, shows Russian Tsar Nicholas II goofing around with friends and family.
Even the most Victorian, Queen Victoria herself, apparently cracked a smile at least once!
In fact, she might have been less dour than history paints her. In her life, she denied ever saying the now-iconic line, “We are not amused.”
Do you love these silly Victorians? Let us know your favorite in the comments and SHARE with anyone who loves a fresh take on history!