Those backward Victorians

Group of Victorian women facing backward.

This image puzzled me for days when I first saw it on Pinterest. Why would a Victorian photographer take a picture of this group facing the wrong way? Was it an accident? A modern photoshopped joke? A symbol of mourning? Some sort of feminist statement? Documentation of a photography studio?

In classic academic fashion, I was over thinking it. I’ve done some research on the image and the answer turned out to be deceptively simple. It is not a modern fake, but a genuine tintype from ca 1880, from the Andrew Daneman collection of American Tintypes (photographer unidentified). Can you guess why they are facing backward before you read the answer? (Answer after the jump!)

Answer: They are facing backward because the photograph was taken to document ladies hairstyles! It seems so glaringly obvious to me now… Did you figure it out right away?

// See the original source of the photograph on the Luminous Lint, where you can also read more about tintypes.

 

Elsewhere on the Museum of Ridiculously Interesting Things:

Models of Grant Wood's American Gothic with painting

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22 thoughts on “Those backward Victorians

  1. I love it! So intriguing, and even when the mystery is solved it’s still fun to look at. I love the links, too. (By the way to be annoyingly technical, though they are known as tintypes, I believe they are actually made of thin sheets of iron, not tin. I’m not sure where the misleading name came from.) :-)

  2. Truly a simple answer, but sadly mundane. I was hoping for a long academic discourse on something completely arcane that I would/could forget the moment I stopped reading. But this is likely to stick with me, like a burr, or spilled honey.

  3. Another reason, from a family anecdote, could have been that one of the women was pregnant, although it is glaringly obvious that this photo was made to show the beautiful hair.

  4. Is that a photo of the sisters who lived near Niagara Falls and had the longest hair in history (I think one still holds the Guinness record for having hair over 7′ long)?
    I think their name was Armstrong or something similar.
    I know it’s a photo of hair styles, but, the one with the loose hair has exceptionally long hair which makes me think it’s those sisters.

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