With iPhones in our pockets and Instagram at our fingertips, it seems that almost everybody these days is a photographer. While snapshots and selfies might be ubiquitous now, in the early days of photography, not everyone was thrilled with the portrait process, due in large part to the amount of discomfort caused by sitting perfectly still for long periods of time. These cartoons from the 1800s poked fun at the new craze.
Many portrait artists were concerned that photographers would ruin their livelihood, as shown in this 1843 cartoon by Theodor Hosemann.
French painter Honoré Daumier mocked the vices used to keep the sitter’s heads still during the exposure time. In his 1847 cartoon, the sitter is uncomfortably confined to his chair by a menacing looking contraption around his head. The caption reads, “Recommended position for having a perfect Daguerreotype portrait taken.”
Daumier followed up with a second cartoon in 1856, this one captioned, “A new process used to achieve graceful poses.”
A cartoon published in Punch’s Almanack from 1855 shows a family posing for a daguerreotype. Unable to hold still long enough, the photograph presents the family as horribly disfigured.
Joking about the unpleasant expressions people made in early photographs, this 1859 cartoon shows a photographer pointing to a violent painting to inspire a pleasant facial expression from his sitter.
The New York Journal also took a jab at the facial expressions in photographic portraits in 1854. The caption reads, “Enthusiastic Daguerreotypist—”Beautiful! Beautiful! Keep up exactly that expression, and we shall obtain a charming picture!”
This cartoon from 1859 pokes fun at American stereotypes and imagines photographers in the wild west. The caption reads, “Western Photographer—“Now, sir, if you dare to move a muscle of your face I’ll blow your brains out!—I want a placid expression, sir; my reputation as a daguerreotype artist is at stake!”
Another Punch cartoon, this one from 1863, is intended for those familiar with how subjects look in ground glass. The caption reads, “A Photographic Incident. Those who are familiar with the phenomena of the camera obscura will readily understand the precaution taken by Miss Tabitha Prue, on being focused for her carte de visite.”
Not much has changed in our society’s need to photograph our children since this 1876 cartoon by George du Maurier.