Monday, September 23, 2013

Say Cheese!

To force the lips into a smile, the word “cheese” causes a person to position their teeth and then part their lips into a somewhat aesthetically pleasing grimace. But when did this word enter the language as a means to get perfect photos?

One of the first references to “cheese” as a photographic strategy was in a 1943 article in The Big Spring Herald:

“It comes from former Ambassador Joseph E. Davies and is guaranteed to make you look pleasant no matter what you’re thinking. Mr. Davies disclosed the formula while having his own picture taken on the set of his 'Mission to Moscow.' It’s simple. Just say 'Cheese,' It’s an automatic smile. 'I learned that from a politician,' Mr. Davies chuckled.”

Who was this “politician”? It is believed this could be then-president Franklin D. Roosevelt. It's not clear if Roosevelt coined the phrase or if he got it from another source.

As a interesting side note, non-English speaking cultures have developed their own versions of the “cheese” trick. In Mexico and Argentina, they say 'whisky' and in France, 'dit souris' ('say mouse').

During the Victorian era (1837-1901) it is rumored that photographers told their subjects to say “prunes.” This produced a much more mild facial expression than “cheese.” This helped people keep a small mouth with firmly closed lips.

There were a few reasons behind this trend of unsmiling photos. These neutral expressions were used because photographs required a very long exposure time along with poor dental hygeine.

When Kodak came along and photos could be captured more quickly and by just about anyone, smiles came in vogue. More casual moments were caught on film, taking with them every expression the human face can make.

And then we evolved to what is now known as the “duck face.”

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