Old photos: Why the hand inside the coat?

Because the Napoleon picture predates photography, and was famous; photographers thought it looked snappy, so they told their subjects to do it.

In Brady’s early civil war photos, shot without the benefit of props like chairs to lean on, the blurriest parts were usually hands. Blinking was not a problem, as the camera was often open longer than the blink.

I’ll second that - from experience.

No, I wasn’t born in the 1860’s (the nineteen sixties, yes) but at Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan there is an old-thyme photography studio and my three sisters and I posed for a daguerretype (my parents still have it). We were cautioned about the long exposure and advised to keep our expressions neutral and rest our hands on something to avoid blurriness. I don’t know if that was the “wet collodoin” referred to, but we were told basically all the older forms of photography had long exposure times.

Very strange to see the positive/negative daguerretype photo with four very-60’s/early 70’s looking hippie kids in it - tie-dye and daishikis and all. I wish you could make copies of those things, I’d like to have one of it.

BTW, I didn’t mean to suggest that long exposure times were the DIRECT cause of the “hand in the coat” pose. I was responding to a remark about the formality of poses - the “hand in coat” thing being a formal pose popular at the time. The long exposure times simply meant people were posed rather than being spontaneously photographed.

You might look at that shot of McClellan, and note the hand on the chair back. That was probably to steady himself since he had to hold still for several seconds to take that picture, intended to be disguised as am affectionate gesture towards his wife.

Daguerreotype was actually the process which preceded the Mathew Brady era collodion process, and was largely displaced by it.

::slight hijack::
Apparently Napoleon didn’t wear under-draws. I thought he was supposed to be TINY in the nasty bits department? But he did have a set of 'nads the size of bowling balls going from what he did in his life! Hmm.

Which was probably a good thing - the mecury fumes used to develop daguerreotypes was (and is) incredibly toxic. I think the lifespan of 19th Century daguerreotypists was around 2 years.

At Greenfield Village they had some industrial protective equipment and a very isolated room in which to develop them.

The pose is still common today in the men’s clothing section of catalogs, only the hand outside of the clothing, clenched in a loose fist.

Googling turned up this text only file Where a bunch of academics ponder this exact question. Some very good citations, and such in there.

A secret sign of a secret society !

What is this herbaceous photography technique of which you speak? It sounds pretty tasty. :wink: