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Poses in Photos of the 1800s

1894-photoThe type of pose our ancestors did in our treasured photographs of them, can be an indication of the period of that photo. With some of the earliest photos done during the 1840s there is a variety of poses, from sitting in a sitting in a chair to standing. The person having a photo made would have to hold still for several minutes so they needed something to stand or sit next to. Also no one ‘smiled’, holding that smile was difficult. These early photos were called the daguerreotype, the ambrotype (with the brass frame case), the tintype, Carte de visite (heavy cardboard back) and the albumen print.

During the 1850s and 1860s photos tended to include a full length figure, with an individual standing or sometimes seated. These are so good for seeing totally what a person looked like and how they dressed. It was the 1860s that more photos used props, a chair, desk or stand for the subject to stand next to, sit or be up against. The late 1860s saw the beginnings of more head shot with an decorative frame (cartouche) printed around the subjects, which were very popular. During these early years it would be photos of people and rarely of buildings, events, scenes or animals. If one such is found in your family collection, it is rare.

By the 1870s the photographer was moving his camera (also camera had improved) closer to the person. This was producing a three-quarter length image many times with the person holding some object (such as a book). Also even more props, such as a desk, stand, decorative column or a chair were in the photo with the subject. The newest type of photo in the 1870s were the cabinet cards which showcased the portrait style or head shots.

The 1880s had a mixture of poses from the portraits, to group family photos or full-length images. Everyone always dressed in their finest clothes. You still don’t see many people smiling but rather more poses with the subject turned to the side or head tilled or turned to the side. Also more photos of couples.

By the 1890s the head and shoulders shot became the standard, much more common. Many tight close-up, portraits, head shots would have the background in white with the head and shoulders almost oval in shape, making another very typical style of the 1890s. The cabinet card now had their edges scalloped. Also popular in the 1890s were those photos with Trompe l’oeil, with super ornamental scroll and flower decoration.

Another different type of pose was the napoleon pose done by men. This was done from the 1860s to 1890s. Males had their right or left hand placed in the front opening of their jacket.

So try sorting and examining any 1840-1899 photographs you have to better identify the decade the image was taken.

Photo: 1894 – example of Trompe l’oeil style.

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