Oh, those wacky Victorians. Underneath all the social rules, mores, expectations and layers of starch lay some truly odd penchants for bending the rules. The craze for headless photography is one that seems so uncharacteristic of how we understand Victorian life that it stands out as downright bizarre. Yet it’s easier to find a headless photograph than one of a Victorian smiling, so what does that say? Your guess is as good as mine. But it’s Halloween time, so smiling Victorians need not apply.
Bring on the headless.
Swedish-born photographer Oscar Rejlander developed “trick photography” in 1856. He compiled a series of negatives to create his famous image, The Two Ways of Life.
After Rejlander’s development, photographic manipulation was studied and developed further. George Eastman was especially interested in its possibilities. As he experimented his technique became more refined and others learned from him.
Photographers started advertising their services for “spirit photographs” and other photographic tricks.
And if one can turn or twist a head, why not remove it altogether? Creating headless portraits became a trend that appealed to the popular sense of the macabre (Gothic novels and Edgar Allen Poe, anyone?) – it became a craze which swept through the Victorian era and beyond with often startling results. How startling? Ask a silly question…
Of course, once all of those heads have been removed it only seems rational to find a home for them elsewhere, no?