Headless Portraits From the 19th Century


It’s not easy to remember life before Photoshop. When we do, we think of a world where picture were straightforward, always showing exactly what happened to be in front of the lens when the exposure was taken. But that’s not entirely the case.

Trick photography has been around for centuries, and even though the folks in Victorian times weren’t nearly as concerned with artificially slimming down, they did like to have some photographic fun once in a while. This set of headless photographs from the 19th century is a great example of the kind of ‘fun’ we’re talking about.

Created by combining images from multiple negatives, Victorian photographers looking to wow audiences and make an extra buck offered a service where they could place your head in your lap, or maybe floating in the air beside you.

Some of the other novelty photography offered at the time included dwarf, giant and spirit photographs (think: photos of people floating in the air with various furniture and other objects). Nowadays it wouldn’t be much of a challenge to make this happen in Photoshop, but back then trick photography really was an art in and of itself.







19th Century Headless Portraits [Pictures in Time via Boing Boing]

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  • 11

    trickery and deception are as old as humans..

  • JLH

    Very interesting pictures, thank you. One thing, though: how can trick photography have “been around for centuries” when photography is less than two centuries old?

  • Martin

    Does anyone know how to do this ? (In analog photography)

  • Katie Mullins

    1800s, 1900s, and 2000s?

  • Lulu N Jaoz

    “centuries” is more than one…hence TWO CENTURIES is valid enough to state “centuries.”

  • sara

    what was the cultural context for this– why did this kind of picture specifically become popular?