“A three second exposure meant that subjects had to stand very still to avoid being blurred, and holding a smile for that period was tricky. As a result, we have a tendency to see our Victorian ancestors as even more formal and stern than they might have been.”
I feel like this is an important image to see and think about, because the original comment is exactly right—the limitations of photography color our perceptions of the past in unreasonable ways. I think many people think of the Victorian age as being drab and stern, because the black-and-white photos have turned sepia toned, their subjects were holding still for quite a long time, and the physical artifacts we can look at have become faded over time.
People don’t change much, though. Loving couples were every bit as silly and adorable then as now. Many liked bright colors and gaudy fashions (while others preferred drabber and subdued styles, same as now). They had their crappy music and their classics, their frightening new media and their own inventive pornography. And the same is true of other historical eras, going back in time all the way to the upright apes in Africa. Life has always been hard for humanity, to varying degrees, but even in the darkness, silliness, love, and beauty can survive.