Vintage photos from the early days of casual photography

That moment when photography becomes part of daily life

Seriously, Ma, you expect me to play at the beach in a suit? (Photo: National Media Museum)

Seriously, Ma, you expect me to play at the beach in a suit? (Collection of the National Media Museum/Kodak Museum)

Last week, the Huffington Post released a series of casual snapshots taken with Kodak’s first mass-market cameras back in 1890. The photos are fascinating. The situations and subjects are the same sorts of moments we would choose to preserve with our digital cameras today, but with differences in clothing and attitudes that clearly mark these photographs as a product of their time. By modern standards, the children at the beach (above) are completely overdressed, as is the woman rowing a boat in a striped dress complete with matching hat and veil (below).

Woman rowing a boat in 1890. (Photo: National Media Museum)

Woman rowing a boat in 1890. (Collection of the National Media Museum/Kodak Museum)

If you’ve spent any time looking at images from the early days of photography, these will stand out to you for another reason. With the possible exception of the woman reading the glowing book (below), these don’t feel staged. These are people out enjoying their day, while someone else — their father, mother, friend — takes a quick snapshot to preserve the moment. This is the moment when technology shifted to make photography an accessible part of daily life, and not simply something to be endured by appointment.

For a writer interested in the Victorian era, this collection is a goldmine. It is so hard to find images from moments when people are just out and about doing whatever it is they do when people aren’t looking. Yet those moments are critical to crafting good historical fiction.

I love the glow around the book. Reading is magical for me too. (Collection of the National Media Museum/Kodak Museum)

I love the glow around the book. Reading is magical for me too. (Collection of the National Media Museum/Kodak Museum)

The Huffington Post article gives only a taste of the collection preserved at the National Media Museum. You can see more of it at the National Media Museum’s Flickr page.

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About Shala Howell

I spent two decades helping companies like Bell Labs, Juniper Networks, and a genetic testing company that was later acquired by CVS translate some of the world’s most complicated concepts into actionable, understandable English. Now I'm working on a much harder problem -- fostering children’s curiosity and engagement in the scientific, artistic, and linguistic world that surrounds them. The first book in my Caterpickles Parenting Series, What’s That, Mom?, focuses on how to use public art to nurture children’s curiosity in the world around them. My next book, Did Dinosaurs Have Belly Buttons?, is currently planned for release in 2018. In the meantime, you can find me blogging about life with a very curious Ten-Year-Old at Caterpickles.com, chatting about books and the writing life at BostonWriters.blog, and tweeting about books, writing, science, & things that make me smile at @shalahowell.
This entry was posted in 1800-1850, 1850-1900 and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Vintage photos from the early days of casual photography

  1. Pingback: How to dress American servants in 1828: Roberts’ Guide for Butlers | BostonWriters

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