Why is Nobody Smiling?

A rainy day at the beach yesterday sent me to Norfolk, Virginia’s excellent Chrysler Museum of Art. I was particularly impressed by the labels on many of the works of art. They were very helpful in directing attention to certain features or posing thoughtful questions–or answering the question that is likely in the visitor’s head. This one made me think of the Myth 127: People didn’t smile in pictures because of the long exposure time required.  The myth speaks to photographs but makes the point that photographic portraits followed the traditions of painted portraits. Here’s what the Chrysler label said: 

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5 Responses to Why is Nobody Smiling?

  1. Rose says:

    For Christians in the Middle Ages, this was a “vale of tears,” in which one was being tested all the time. The grins we see today would have been called “Judy friendly” or insincere as late at the 19th and early 20th century. The reference to “Christian” in the last sentence might apply to Protestant Christians after 1517) but not Catholics in the Middle Ages. “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” was taken literally.

  2. Stephen Herchak says:

    :o)

    On Sun, Sep 3, 2017 at 9:15 AM, History Myths Debunked wrote:

    > Mary Miley posted: “A rainy day at the beach yesterday sent me to Norfolk, > Virginia’s excellent Chrysler Museum of Art. I was particularly impressed > by the labels on many of the works of art. They were very helpful in > directing attention to certain features or posing thought” >

  3. Gerald Ritter says:

    I was appalled that the generalization about “Christians” was overlooked in a column supposedly aimed at setting the record straight. Yes there were some rich people whose self-serving rationale attributed amassed wealth as a result of being virtuous. But that was not the mainstream, and not in accordance with the teaching of the chief prophet, one Jesus of Bethlehem.

  4. The Medieval Monks in Europe aarguesd whether Christ ever laughed, or even smiled. But by the 18th C and the Enlightenment we find a lot of what I might call self assured smiles or even smirks. After all an Enlightenment man was convinced that the Mind of man could solve all things… Check out 18th C Portraits to get an idea. https://www.pinterest.com/pin/179581103867069705/?lp=true

  5. Fox & Maus says:

    Howdy! Late to the party but I think you’ll find this interesting…
    So, why no smiles? There’s an easy (and from my personal experience), correct, reason.

    I do what is referred to as “alternative” photography, meaning that I use the photographic methods that date to around the 1840’d-60’s. This is commonly referred to as “collodion” photography though it spans several different methods when you get into it. What it does require are long, sometimes VERY long, exposure times. It can tae well over a minute to take a portrait photograph and the subject must not move at all. This seems to automatically result in what we have come to know as the “resting b*tch” face and I tell you, it’s amazing how we all default to it. Even when I take photographs of young, silly children, when I tell them to hold for the camera they immediately slip into a very serious, very rigid camera face.

    This holds true for paintings as well. I also teach portrait drawing and this is exactly what models do when they have to hold a pose for several minutes. Can you imagine holding a smile for fifteen minutes? And that’s nothing compared to an oil painting. These can take many days and the subject must sit still and hold the same look. No small wonder why they all look so serious. Hope this helps!

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