Chris Steiner

    Suspension of Disbelief

    DAY 4: “Missing Heads”

    In the late 1800s, “trick photos” pushed the boundaries of photography’s claims to represent truth and reality. Among several popular themes were photos of people with “missing heads”. Achieved through photo-montage, double exposures and other techniques, these fake decapitation images were meant to both startle and amuse. 

    The intense interest in decapitation was likely inspired by stage magic. In the Victorian era magicians often performed illusions featuring decapitation and “talking heads” — a motif that was quickly picked up by photographers.

    During WWI images of fake decapitations were also common in military portraits – as soldiers often embraced comical attitudes toward death and dismemberment to help cope with theirs fears and the horrors of war.

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