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Camera Smile

Camera Smile
By Joe Phillips Dear Me
Camera Smile
By Joe Phillips Dear Me

Open up!

I am gobsmacked by the people on TV and social media who pose for pictures with mouths

wide open. Is it supposed to be a look of surprise? Are they caught in the middle of a laugh? Are they like baby birds vying to be fed?

It is a modern but inscrutable practice to show people posing with gaping mouths, and I've seen enough of folk's molars.

When photography was new, people sat for pictures with a plain face — no expression, deadpan. Early photographs took long exposures, too long for the subject to hold a smile.

Some exposures took so long the subjects sat with their bodies and heads held in place by metal frames. That was nothing to smile about.

Even if most everybody had teeth that were various shades of brown, it wasn't something they were proud of, so they sat there looking glum but not gummy.

Dental health was not at the level we know today.

While walking through the woods, my father often broke a twig from a black gum tree and chewed on one end of it until it appeared to have bristles. That, he said, was what they had for tooth brushes in his grandparents' day.

More prosperous people bought tooth brushes carved from bone with little holes drilled in one end. You supplied your own hog bristles. There is one of these in the Douglas County Museum of History and Art.

Smiling for the camera is a modern thing, looks fake but we're used to it. Candid snapshots are more telling.

I've never seen a smiling figure in a painted portrait, save the vague smile of Leonardo da Vinci's “Mona Lisa.”

Ray Evans and Jay Livingston wrote the hit song recorded in 1950 by Nat “King” Cole about the ambiguous smile of woman in the “Mona Lisa” painting. I admit it looks like the lady is on the cusp of amusement.

English Queen Elizabeth I (15331603) had wealth and power, but she also had a notoriously bad mouth. One writer stated that sugar was so expensive in 16th century England that many people would go their whole lives without ever tasting sugar.

Elizabeth had all the money she could possibly want, and, like many of the wealthy, she chose to spend it on food. Some people of that time brushed their teeth with a polish made of sugar.

The ill tempered royal kept visitors at a distance and hid her black teeth with a piece of white silk in her mouth while sitting at court.

I suppose the modern practice of yawning for the camera will pass as most fads do, but I wish it would hasten along.

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