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Why does nobody smile?

This was a simple picture of Natalie. For me it was nothing special. But what surprised me when I posted it to the site where I found her was a comment that said “Wow, she’s smiling!”. Of course, she is. Why shouldn’t she? But it got me thinking, and looking, and I realised why the person had said that.

Whilst I did not do any statistical research (shame on me!), I did re-visit that upload site, and had to go through more than 500 images of nudes or partial nudes where the face was showing before I could find one image with something that was possibly an unforced smile. So why should that be?

There are many reasons why, of which the most likely would be that they were not enjoying the photo session, or at least not that part, that they did not like the photographer, they did not like what they were asked to do or they were not happy, at least that day. These would be understandable with the unpaid or starting out models. But what about the well-paid ones? Why is it that they too do not smile, whether is it nudes or fashions or some other genre? I am excluding those shots where the “smile” is clearly forced. (To be clear, 80% of those images were women. But there was no gender difference.)

I think there are two main reasons, both of which are rooted in history and psychology. Firstly, there is this (misplaced) idea that to be good, you need to emulate the good of the past. But those early photos were hampered by the technicalities of the day, including film speed and the quality of the lighting. Indeed, it has been suggested that the first smile (or almost a smile) was not captured until 1853 (Willy Dillwyn), some 14 years after the photography craze started. They had to look serious because you had to hold the pose for so long. But today, when its all over in a flash, why doesn’t the model smile. I admit I am at a loss. Surely, if the model smiles, then people will think the model must be good to work with, and the photographer must be good to work with.

The second reason is that when somebody smiles, it adds additional character, their character, to a photo. And that is not want you want in a shoot for Vanity Fair, Vogue or Rolling Stone. To smile would take the viewer away from (usually) the clothing, which is not what the “sponsor” paid for. So the model will need to have a neutral expression, becoming subservient to the rest of the image because that is what the customer wants.

Of course, such a commentary is a double-edged sword. Now everybody will look more closely at my photos and ask why some of the models are not smiling. And my reply? If asked, I shall simply say ………… (fill in the missing words).