When Queen Victoria took the throne in 1837, the first photographs were being taken and she was the first British monarch to the captured on camera. In the early days, photography required a great deal of patience and were taken by a professional. The techniques used to take photos developed during her reign and photos became clearer and easier to take, and as a result more popular.
Why the stern faces?
The first photographs took several hours to capture, with exposure time reducing during the 19th century to an hour, then several minutes and eventually seconds.
Having your photograph taken involved sitting very still for a long period of time – and was therefore a little bit of an ordeal. A smile is more difficult to maintain, and tends to look false over a period of time, so a stern fixed expression became the fashion.
Photography was new, and little understood, so therefore considered a serious business, conducted only by professionals.
In photographs of children, you often see the mother hidden from view, either covered in a cloth or hiding behind the chair. Adults can sit for a period of time waiting for the camera’s exposure, but for children this is more difficult. Children would sit on their mother’s knee, or in a chair being supported from behind. The mother would be hidden under a cloth or could just be seen through the back of the chair, trying to remain invisible.
Photographing the Deceased
In Victorian times, people would often book a photographer for a funeral to take a picture of the deceased – as this might be the only photo they have of their loved one.
This was common practice for children who were unable to sit still for the long exposure times of cameras in those days. Some of the hidden mother pictures mentioned above are believed to be post-mortem photographs – the mother holds up the body of the dead child to make it look as lifelike as possible.
Cameras for the Masses
It wasn’t until the end of the 19th century that cameras became more accessible and being able to take your own photographs became a reality.
George Eastman set up the company Kodak with a box camera which held 100 exposures of film. The film had to be developed at the factory. However, the film was expensive and precious, so even those who could afford cameras only took photographs on very special occasions.
It seems a world away from the quick exposure camera phone generation. These days everyone carries a camera in their pocket and rather than owning just a few photographs proudly displayed, we store thousands of images on our computer. The Victorian era saw big changes in the world of photography which started us on the journey to mass-ownership of sophisticated camera technology.