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10 strange but interesting early photography fads



Photography has come a long way. It is sometimes hard to believe that black-and-white photography was the only type available a few decades ago. Nowadays we have so many possibilities. And let's not even talk about current fads like the selfie.

However, we have no monopoly on fads. In fact, the people who lived when the camera was invented seem to have better and more flashy photography than us.

10 Postmortem Photography

Postmortem photography (aka memento mori ]) was a bizarre genre in which living people photographed with the corpse of a dead relative. It was common in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Photographs were expensive at the time, and most people did not take pictures during their lifetime. The only opportunity was after her death. In fact, it was often the only image of the deceased.

Postmortem photography was possible because most people died at home. Most pictures were of children because at that time child mortality was high. The children were dressed – sometimes surrounded by flowers and toys – before the picture was taken. Their mothers sometimes even bore the children. The pictures often looked like the dead kids were just taking a nap.

Older children and adults were equipped with belts, pulleys and levers. Some even stood as if they were alive. The eyes were often dead gifts, and sometimes photographers added glassy eyes to give the impression of the dead man looking at the camera.

Considering the fact that the transport was unreliable and dead people became stiff after a few hours (called Rigor Mortis), relatives were often sent to the photographer before the person's death. The photographers sometimes arrived after the onset of rigor mortis. However, this was usually not a problem as they were experts in manipulating sterner bodies.

Postmortem photography slowly disappeared as advances in medicine made people live longer. Instead of their homes, more people died in hospitals. Cameras and photographs also became cheaper over time, and most people had other pictures of themselves and their relatives. [1]

9 Hidden Mother Photography

Early photography had long exposure times. The subject had to remain calm for 30 seconds before a picture could be taken. It is difficult to let an adult sit still for 30 seconds and stare into the camera. It is almost impossible to have a child in such a position. [2]

Because of this, mothers sometimes hid in the background while holding their children. This was called hidden mother photography. Most mothers covered themselves with clothes that fitted into the background. Others were disguised as chairs, backdrops, curtains or whatever they would hide in the photo before taking.

8 Spirit Photography

Spirit photography was another genre inspired by the long exposure times of the early cameras. The motives of earlier photographs had to stand still to prevent ghosting. As you probably guessed by name, ghosting means that the subject looked faint and transparent – as if it were a ghost.

In 1861, photographer William H. Mumler discovered in his photographs a method to produce consistent ghosting. It is believed that Mumler created his ghost images by inserting the glass plate of an earlier photograph of the alleged mind in front of a fresh glass plate, which he used for his last motive.

Rather than creating a unique genre of photography, Mumler used his knowledge to cheat his clients. He claimed he could make real shots of ghosts, and soon clients would rave about his shop to take pictures of ghosts from their deceased relatives. His clients included Mary Todd Lincoln, who took a photo with the ghost of her late husband Abraham Lincoln.

Soon people revealed Mumler's mental images as a fake. There were claims that he raided his clients' homes to steal pictures of their deceased relatives and use them for his ghost glass plates. This was probably true because the mind was sometimes a living relative. This effectively destroyed Mumler's photography career, even though a court kept him free of all charges. [3]

7 Smileless Photographs

People seldom smiled on early photographs, especially on pictures taken in the 19th and early 20th centuries. There were several reasons for this. Early photography was considered an extension of painting, and paintings should look natural. This means that a smile and anything but a shallow facial expression was not allowed.

There was also postmortem photography. As mentioned earlier, pictures taken in postmortem sessions were often the only picture a family had of their deceased relative. The images should make a dead immortal – and a natural expression was the most favored facial expression.

Another reason was the long exposure times of early cameras. As already mentioned, the subjects had to remain calm. This meant that they had to maintain a single facial expression so as not to end up with a blurred mouth. Most subjects chose a face with a shallow facial expression, as it was the easiest to care for.

Another reason was the fact that the Victorians did not smile. There was a widespread belief that only idiots smiled. No one wanted to be an idiot because he smiled in a photo. [4]

6 Headless Portraits

Early photographers manipulated images a century before computers and imaging software arrived. Image editing began immediately after the invention of the first cameras, when some photographers discovered a method in which two images were cut together and put together to create a new one.

Swedish photographer Oscar Rejlander used this technique to create the headless portrait genre in the 19th century. As you may have guessed from the name, one or more subjects appeared in a headless portrait. The subject or someone else in the picture held his head in his hand or on a plate.

The headless person or the other person sometimes held a bloody knife in his hand to give the impression that they had cut off his head. While this type of portrait can be easily created with the image editing software available today, it was a tedious task in the past and not as easy as it looks. [5]

5 Builder's Photo

Locomotive and car manufacturers used the builder's photo (aka official photo) to introduce their new or upgraded products. The shot included either the front and side of the product or just the side. The locomotives were often without wagons and the images were sometimes edited to remove the backgrounds.

Some manufacturers have painted their locomotives gray to look good on black and white photos. Darker areas of the locomotive were also painted in light colors to make them appear lighter. The locomotives were repainted in their real colors after shooting.

Railway companies posted the pictures in their offices and used them on postcards and advertisements. Also Lokomotivbegeisterte got into the fashion. Her pictures, however, were called roster shots. [6]

4 Pigeon Photography

In 1907, Julius Neubronner applied for a patent for the dove camera. As the name suggests, the camera was attached to a pigeon. A timer enabled automatic photography when the pigeon was in flight.

The camera was a win for aerial photography back then. In fact, his pictures are among the earliest aerial photographs ever taken. In front of the dove camera, people took aerial photos of cameras attached to balloons and kites. Dragons and balloons, however, were slower and could travel only limited distances.

This becomes more interesting when we find out that Dr. Neubronner never started developing a camera for aerial photography. He invented the camera to document the routes of the pigeons.

This does not mean that the dove camera had no defects. Although useful for aerial photography, it was unreliable for surveillance as it shot images randomly. This was the reason why it lost its place for airplanes when World War I came. [7]

3 Manual Retouching

Immediately after the invention of photography, people started to look for ways to look better in pictures. In the Victorian era, however, there was no computer or image editing software. The Victorians solved this problem with pencils to manually retouch the glass plates used to create the photos.

Body lines became bolder with sharp pencils. Blunt pencils were used to brighten darker areas of the body. The cheeks were often shaded, as they usually looked darker in the finished image. Photo editing was so common in Victorian times that almost every image was manually reworked. [8]

2 Hand-Colored Photographs

Some paintings from the 19th and early 20th centuries appear in color, although color photography was only perfected in the middle of the 20th century. How was that possible? Of course by painting over pictures.

Johann Baptist Isenring began hand-colored photo fashion when he painted over a black and white photo with pigments and gum arabic. Some other photographers soon joined the fad. A well-known photographer was Yokohama Matsusaburo, who doubled as a painter and lithographer.

Matsusaburo created his first color photograph in the 1860s and was known for his hand-colored pictures. Hand-colored photography reached its peak at the beginning of the 20th century, but died quickly when color photography was started by cameras in the 1950s. [9]

1 Red Shirt School of Photography

The Red Shirt School of Photography was a genre born of the perfection of colored photography. The genre was unknowingly started by several magazines that were accused of purposely inserting red objects into their images.

There are rumors that photographers working for the magazines came with red shirts, red umbrellas, and other red objects to put their hands on. They added these objects to their photographs to make them look appealing. National Geographic was one of the journals accused of launching the fad.

Color images fascinated people when color cameras became mainstream in the 1950s. The editors quickly realized that readers focused on the colors in the image rather than the lines and movements that were central to the era of black-and-white photography. The editors therefore focused on gaining more readers through appealing images.

In fact, the editors have selected the pictures by color. For this reason, photographers have preferred to take pictures with sharp and appealing colors like red. Some photographers traveled with actors wearing bright clothes or bright accessories, letting them walk into a scene just before shooting. The genre died in the 1960s. [10]



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