When you're about to take a picture of someone, you probably encourage a toothy grin by telling them to "say cheese!" But according to Nicholas Jeeves at the The Public Domain Review, people centuries ago were very different. "By the 17th century in Europe," he writes, "it was a well-established fact that the only people who smiled broadly, in life and in art, were the poor, the lewd, the drunk, the innocent, and the entertainment." That and the long sitting times it required is why most portraits from the era show unsmiling faces. It also didn't hurt that dental hygiene left something to be desired. With all that historical context, when people of the Victorian era sat down for a photo, they maintained a more dignified expression by saying "prunes." It wasn't until Kodak made photography more accessible to the masses—and paired it with some persuasive, smile-filled ad campaigns—that smiling became popular in photographs. Learn more about the history of saying cheese in the videos below.
When People Started Smiling In Photographs
It wasn't considered good form until recently.
Key Facts In This Video
One of the earliest references to the phrase "say cheese" appeared in 1943. 01:02
Photographers during the Victorian era told subjects to say "prunes" before photographs. 02:13
The first pocket Kodak was introduced in 1895 and cost $5—roughly $135 today. 05:21
Why People Never Smiled In Old Photos
It wasn't because they were more serious.
Where Did The Polaroid Come From?
Hear the history of this nostalgic instant camera.
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