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Victorian Era Trick Photography: Headless Portraits

If you think the people of the Victorian Era didn’t know how to have a good time, take a look at these headless portraits. You’ll laugh your head off. (Many are from the George Eastman House Collection.)

Oscar Gustave Rejlander: Father of Art Photography
The technique that allowed these unusual portraits was probably innovated around 1856 by Oscar Rejlander. He was an early Victorian art photographer from Sweden who developed many techniques including Photomontage and Combination Printing.  These were the technique of using negatives from two or more images to create a single image.  They became the basis for Victorian Era trick photography.

One of his most famous works is The Two Ways of Life, in which he seamlessly combined thirty-two images. Because some of them displayed partial nudity, the work was considered by some to be indecent. That veil of shame vanished for the most part when Queen Victoria purchased a copy for Prince Albert.

He was also known for erotic work, using circus girls, street children and child prostitutes for models. One of his most notorious series portrayed Charlotte Baker.

From Decapitation to Charles Darwin
While Rejlander’s  decapitation work was more in the arena of parlor tricks, he also was known for his collaboration with Charles Darwin on The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals.

Genre Portraiture Was All The Rage
In his early studio work, Rejlander made his living from “genre portraiture.” The headless portraits, among other interesting ideas, became all the rage among working photographers.

Floating objects surrounding the subject and  spirits of deceased relatives looming in the background were other favorite tricks.  Mary Todd Lincoln’s portrait with her deceased husband, President Lincoln, standing over her was one of the most famous of its day.

We Need A Good Headless App Today
Who among us has not cut someone’s face out of a photo?  An ex-spouse or estranged sibling?  Perhaps a friend gone wrong?  Wouldn’t this make a great photo booth at your next family gathering?  It could bring “un–friending” to a new level.

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Happy Halloween!

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