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: 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.
I don’t think this is accurate. I have a tintype of a man wearing a bowling hat and facing backward.
I think I liked it better not knowing the reason for the poses, so I choose to forget what you have told me. It is ridiculously interesting enough as an image alone.
I just found your blog and I am fascinated. I foresee a long ahead of archive reading.
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.
I thought about the hairstyles as soon as I saw this picture! It was something quite common in ‘ethnological’ pictures taken in 19th century Japan by Western photographers. Here are a couple of examples:
[I just found your blog and love it, by the way! Very inspiring.]
Fascinating! I’ll be back. I love old and odd things.
Came here by chance…one of the most iteresting blogs i have ever come across!
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.
That is fascinating! I’ve never heard that before. Thanks for the great comment.
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.
Like a Victorian Vogue shoot.
Interesting…I didn’t figure it out until I read your answer. Makes complete sense now…
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.) :-)
Tin snips were used to cut them apart. I don’t know if that is why they became known as tintypes, but at least it puts “tin” into the context of the photos. :-)
Oh, I didn’t know about the tin snips, thanks!