There are a lot of reasons to study history. We personally like to dive into the past to uncover the obscure stories that don’t always bubble to the surface. You learn the essentials in school, but there are plenty of other facts to learn that are even more intriguing. Some of them are even creepy, revealing the dark shadows of our past. There’s no better example of this than Victorian photographs. While they might look normal at first glance, there’s something about these photos that you don’t know.
Understanding Long Exposure Times
Before we really dig into the creepy reality of Victorian photos, it’s good to understand what photography was really like back then. The camera was relatively new in the 1800s, and pictures simply couldn’t be taken as quickly as they can be today. If you wanted to have your portrait taken, you needed to sit still… very still. Exposure times could be as long as a few minutes when photos were first invented, and that meant that slight movements could ruin the entire photo process. This caused Victorian photographers to get very creative in how they limited the movements of their subjects.
Introducing the Posing Stands
If you look at many Victorian photos, you’ll notice that lots of people are seemingly propped up by posing stands. What’s the deal with that? Were they asleep? Were they … gasp … not alive?! Well, we’ll get to that in a second. But before that, here’s the truth about posing stands: they were actually used on people that were alive and well. Because of the long exposure times of photos, they needed to find a way to make people sit perfectly still so that the picture would look as good as possible. Much like a modern-day tripod, posing stands were used to keep people in one static position while the exposure took place.
The Dark Truth About the Photos
Okay, that’s not so creepy. Sure, it sounds a bit uncomfortable, but nothing out of a horror movie. But here’s something that is certifiably terrifying: some of the photos from the Victorian era really do feature people that aren’t alive. Posing stands aren’t always an indication of this, but you can still generally pick out the photos that feature corpses relatively easily. You might notice that some people are just posing in unnatural, stiff ways, or you might see that they are laying down in a way that just doesn’t seem right. You might even see that they have eyes painted on their eyelids to make them seem alive!
Why Did They Do This?
It might seem totally shocking to us to imagine taking photos of people that aren’t alive, but it’s critical to understand that the Victorian era was very different from now in terms of social customs. They thought of mortality in a very unique way. Because people often didn’t live very long, they grieved in ways that seem strange to us now. Photos were a new technology, so it just seemed right to commemorate fallen family members with pictures that would last forever. It’s undeniably creepy now, but it made sense for them at the time, and it helped them cope with loss.
One Happy Family
In a way, these photos are sweet. It’s a relic of families trying to work through their emotions and grieve for the ones they have lost. But even with that said, there’s one fact about these Victorian death photos that really gives us the chills. Sometimes the living would pose with their nonliving family members in photos. There are instances of infants in photos where one of them is not alive; the same goes for older family members that passed on being posed with the rest of the family. Looking at these photos gives you a deep sense of the bond that the family had, but it’s also deeply unsettling.