The Museum of Ridiculously Interesting Things

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: 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.

14 comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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.]

  3. Mrs Marvel

    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. 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.

  5. 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.) :-)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s