This is all the picture below taken around 1904, which is so striking. This consists of a collection of images from the American Museum of Natural History Collection by Berthold Laufer from his expedition to China.
This man is definitely smiling:
A picture from 1904 — yes, 1904 — of a man smiling while eating rice.
We do not know much about the picture, but it is a great occasion to look why it seems like people never smiled in ancient photos.
Photographer and subject could be the clues. The photographer Berthold Laufer was an anthropologist who wanted to record life instead of posing it, which meant that he was different from other ptographers of his time. This goal meant to capture more feelings. His rice-loving subject may have been willing to smile because of his own sensitivity to photography and public conduct from a different culture. Both were alien to the art community of the mainstream.
They create a picture together that is still memorable. We do not know why a man who eats rice has looked so happy, but we know that it has taken us into a picture which still makes us smile.
Early photographs were seen as a passage to immortality
May be that was why folks prefered to “face” the immortality with a serious face and viped their smiles away.
A postmortem photograph from around 1860. (Wikimedia Commons)
When we photograph a profile today, the goal is to look cool or record brief moments. But in the early days of photography, people didn’t think about their Facebook page. Photographs are for them a path to immortality.
This is apparent in the postmortem photography tradition in particular. A recent deceased person, child, and animal, as if still alive, would be photographed. It had largely— but never absolutely — petrified in 1900, started in the early days of photograph. But the mindset of the time has been revealed: portraiture has been used to preserve the life of future generations.
Instead of looking “already dead” througout the immortality of your photos, better keep on smiling.