The Tanana River, Montevideo and Smilling in Photographs

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Pin of The Week

Meeting the native Peoples on the Tanana River
Meeting the native Peoples on the Tanana River, 1916

Pin of the week was pinned by the Rutherford B.Hayes Presidential Center. It was taken by Colonel Webb C. Hayes, son of the aforementioned 19th President of the United States. The Colonel was on a trip exploring Alaska and the Yukon with his two 18 year-old nephews Dalton Hayes and William Hayes. This photograph appeals to me because it is a beautiful portrait of a traditional family within a cultural group that probably had very rarely been photographed at this point. The caption accompanying the photograph tells that there were…”lines of drying salmon hanging up and some caribou and bear skins.”

Pinner of the Week

Plaza Independencia, 1936
Plaza Independencia, 1936

Pinner of the Week is Centro de Fotografía de Montevideo (the Montevideo photography centre). This organisation has a brilliant channel conserving and documenting the history of Uruguay’s capital. Their own archive has approximately 120,000 photographs from the period 1840-1990 and a growing collection of contemporary photos.  There is a wealth of historical information paired with the photos they have pinned; and even if your Spanish isn’t too hot (like mine) it’s quite fun too filter the blurbs through Google Translate and see what you can discern.

Children of Carnival, 1918
The children of Carnival, 1918

You can read about all aspects of the city’s history: the famous Carnival that takes over South America every February, the history of the buildings and the port, the creation of the city’s tourist industry and everything in between.

Rosaleda del Prado, 1920
Rosaleda del Prado, 1920

This photo shows a garden path within Rosaleda del Prado, a huge rose garden within the public park of Prado that was designed by French landscape architect Charles Racine and opened in November 1912. It was made up of 12,000 rosebushes many varieties of which Racine had had shipped over from his homeland.

Story of the Week

Smiling in photographs
Smiling in photographs

This week story regards the transition, over the timeline of photography, from seemingly non-expressive poses to today’s photo-culture of never forgetting to have your biggest smiles ready whenever a camera is near.
I decided to investigate when the change occurred and to what it was attributed. The first photograph with a person as the subject matter was supposedly in 1838. The early photographic process was a much lengthier affair than today with exposure times up to a minute long. For this reason people needed to be in a pose that was sustainable for this length of time. All kinds of apparatus was used to help, including head braces and ropes going through the clothes and chairs of young children, in an effort to lock them into position. A minute-long smile would appear unnatural, it was much easier to maintain a more relaxed face. The opportunity for a family or individual to have their photograph taken was also a rare, expensive event that would see the family dress-up in their Sunday finest. To smile and risk ruining the photo could upset the whole family and maybe stemming from this reason smiling for photos was considered insincere and undignified.

Mr and Mrs George W. Starr and family, 1902
Mr and Mrs George W. Starr and family, 1902

As time passed the photographic process improved and exposure times reduced. A crisp photo was not so reliant on sustained perfect-stillness from the subject.  People also grew more used to having their photo taken as the practice became cheaper and more commonplace. By the 1920s the informalising of photography and the informalising of many other social aspects meant that people had started choosing to smile when their image was captured. The practice has widened and today you may be accused of rudeness if you fail to offer a smile for a photo.
That is a general assessment of how smiling in photos became commonplace but I thought I would just mention a few other reasons offered when I was reading around the subject which include improvements in oral hygiene and dentistry and photographers perfecting their delivery of jokes.
I have always been more intrigued by older photos than newer ones and wondered why. Aside from the mystery that time helps nuture, I think a big part of the reason is what lies behind the smile. Having smile as the default writes a deceitful account of what is going on. The exposure time of a photo today can be infinitesimal compared to old photos.  You may capture a smile but it is such a quick snapshot of a smile that there is no time to determine its sincerity. The attempted neutral expressions of the past were exposed for seconds rather than milliseconds and allowed enough time for someones real emotions to shine through. So, although it may sound counter-intuitive, I believe if you want to show the world how happy you are; turn your face as blank as possible, sit very still and turn that exposure right up.

Thanks for the photo, which was pinned by EastMarple1.