Monday, October 19, 2009

Say cheese

There was a fascinating article on the invention and the history of
the photographic smile in Sunday's La Repubblica (which I haven't
found online). People still say "say cheese" when taking your picture,
but they don't need to because we all smile anyway, even when it's
inappropriate. There are lots of photos of people standing on the
ruins of the World Trade Center smiling for the camera. There's a
photo in the Repubblica article of a man standing in front of a firing
squad who's smiling for the camera. The white men, women, and children
shown in the infamous lynching postcards of the 1920s smiled for the
camera. Lynndie England, Charles Graner, and their comrades smiled for
the camera. According to the Repubblica article, there are even
photographs of just-liberated concentration camp survivors smiling for
the camera. It was not always so. Up until the early 20th century,
people didn't automatically smile for the camera. Next time I take a
photo of Laura (which I do whenever we have visitors, because we don't
have a camera), I won't say "say cheese." But I think she'll smile
anyway.