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Smiling for photos

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libertygrl
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Posted 05/16/12 - 6:40 PM:
Subject: Smiling for photos
I'm curious why and at what point it became culturally popular to smile for photos. Around the time the camera was invented, you will notice that people never smiled for their portraits. Come to think of it, people are rarely smiling in old painted portraits, either. Maybe this is why the Mona Lisa was so famous for her smile.

Nowadays you're usually expected to smile for portrait photos (even if you don't feel happy, mind you). I wonder what brought about the change which made smiling for photos more fashionable.

Any thoughts?
cripes
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cripes
Posted 05/17/12 - 7:38 AM:

I suppose there may be lots of reasons but I tend to think much of it has to do with teeth. If you have nice looking teeth you may be more inclined to show them off. Smiling itself makes for a more welcoming and pleasant appearance. I think smiling is good facial posture.

I personally find it difficult to smile in photos and just about anyone I've spoken to about this subject say it feels awkward to smile for them, even those who look natural doing so.
thedoc
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Posted 05/17/12 - 10:38 AM:

I agree that teeth may be part of it, but also the advent of mass marketing advertising. The model, in the ad, was supposed to look pleased that they had bought the product, so a smile was required and this in turn appealed to the general public as the style for a photograph.
libertygrl
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Posted 05/18/12 - 10:58 PM:

cripes: i always have a very awkward time smiling for photos.

doc: yes, now that you mention it, i think the advent of the television also had a big impact on making smiling for photos fashionable. i think you're probably right that the first big smiles were probably seen in advertisements. it makes sense because advertising appeals to ideals. at some point, someone thought to themselves "smiling is ideal!" this goes back to what cripes was saying too. but it seems likely advertising is what spread the ideal around.
Samvega
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Posted 05/23/12 - 1:33 PM:

I think a lot depends on the context of the photo and the culture of those who are being photographed. People usually don't smile for mug shots, unless they are intoxicated or are trying to appear deranged. In a traditional Japanese wedding, for example, you are not supposed to smile in photographs (although this fast becoming a thing of the past). This is also true for many other Asian cultures; the participants (and especially the bride) are not supposed to smile during the ceremony, and pictures taken of the ceremony reflect this.

As LibertyGirl pointed out, you look at early photos, from the 19th and early 20th centuries, you'll find that most people had very dour looks on their faces (admittedly some of this was probably due to the fact that early photographs required you to hold still for a long time, not unlike having your portrait painted).

There is also the old saw about how many indigenous peoples thought the photograph would steal your spiritual power, and by smiling you would allow more of yourself to be exposed to this process (I don't know if this is actually true).

I guess I have no idea why smiling became popular! sticking out tongue If I had to guess though, I would say it's because photographs are supposed to capture moments and memories. People want to look back on their happy memories, not on moments when they were feeling down. Thus by smiling, the participants appear happy in those moments - even if in reality they all hate each other. When you look back at that photo 20 years from now, you will think "Those were some good times" because everyone is smiling. The rancor will be forgotten (or at least suppressed).

And yes, I am sure advertising has a lot to do with it as well.
Thinker13
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Posted 05/24/12 - 11:50 PM:

libertygrl wrote:
I'm curious why and at what point it became culturally popular to smile for photos. Around the time the camera was invented, you will notice that people never smiled for their portraits. Come to think of it, people are rarely smiling in old painted portraits, either. Maybe this is why the Mona Lisa was so famous for her smile.

Nowadays you're usually expected to smile for portrait photos (even if you don't feel happy, mind you). I wonder what brought about the change which made smiling for photos more fashionable.


This is very good observation, and hence, a very good question. It never occurred to me and I had taken it for granted that people smile because smiling mostly gives best projection of one's good physical, social, psychological disposition, unless this smile is 'hysterical'. I have always had a hard time trying to smile for photos, but I think most of the comments in previous posts are factors which might have been responsible for this fashion.

Once a fashion, always a fashion is not true, but somehow, smiling is more than just fashion. Take for example: The practice of saying 'hi' to your colleagues with a smile. On a forum it's pretty easy to type : ) but in real life you have to pretend a smiling face even if it's just for 10 seconds and even if you are feeling very bad. I never had an affinity for cultivated humble attitude, but it's a tool to get things done, so by and by I have learned it. Smiling and saying 'hi' when you're not in a mood is so diificult, but it's a widespread fashion in my opinion, for some of the reasons which are common with photographs.

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