I was intrigued by Google’s graphic for today and was interested to discover, upon clicking on it, that it is in honor of Louis Daguerre’s 224th birthday. I also noticed a link to an article in the Christian Science Monitor called Louis Daguerre: Why People Never Smile in Old Photographs. Indeed! I have often thought that and wondered about that myself. I always thought it was because people thought they had bad teeth… or they really had bad teeth. I also wondered if maybe smiling was just not done. In the former USSR people rarely smiled in public (granted there was not much to smile about) because they did not want to be viewed as being mentally challenged. Yes, it’s true–at least that is what I was told when I was traveling around the Soviet Union as a tourist, flashing my happy American teenaged smile. Of course, I immediately transformed myself into a grim old gal and suddenly fit right in.
In any case, evidently creating a daguerreotype was a painstaking process; the photographer could not risk having their subject move and even subjected some to neck braces. A smile was an accident waiting to happen. Potential energy ready to transform itself into a cascade of falling facial muscles. Blank stares were de rigueur because even a twitch or raised brow could ruin everything. So next time I look at these old family photos, I will be more understanding of the process those folks had to go through to get them. Still, it’s a shame we cannot see their smiles. But Wealthy Angus appears to have managed to give us a very slight one in this image; but she was quite the lady–made of very strong stuff. More on her some other day!