I had seen a similar old photo of my now 100-year-old grandmother back in India. Apart from seeing my grandma as a young teenager what had baffled me was positioning of the chair. “Why is the chair turned the other way,” I had asked her. She laughed and said it was the style at the time, back in 1910s.
The picture was shot for arranged marriage purpose and there was another photo of her younger sister with the same chair and in the same pose. Later, I saw plenty of such photos in an old trunk at my house. I noted another thing – no one smiled in old photos.
Recently, I came across another such photo and I thought of doing a little research on the chair as props in old photos. This is what I unearthed.
1) The use of the chair was a means to facilitate, relax and prevent the sitter from moving.
2) It was used at the very beginning of photography when long exposures were necessary for a successful result.
3) Perhaps the long exposure and staying still was the reason why people would get tired of smiling. So people rarely smiled from old photos.
4) Posing with a chair was widely used and imitated. It got ingrained in psyche of the people of the time and everyone preferred it because of convenience as well as dramatic effect.
To learn more read this great blog – here. And do share if you know more. As of now, my curiosity got satiated regarding the weird positioning of chairs during portrait photography back in the good old days. Here are some more old pictures of royalty, with of course, the chair!