100 Years Passport Photo

This article was published for the final edition of the Keesing journal. Click the picture to read the full article on the original website.

2015 was actually the 100th anniversary of the passport photo, but it was unfortunately not much communicated or even celebrated. Only the British newspaper “The Sunday Post” published a brief article in March 2015. The history of Man’s most traveled document is quite impressive, entertaining, and educating at the same time. Here are some facts about the passport photo you might don’t know before.

A photo is since “just” 100 years a significant characteristic of any issued passport. The variations of photos were extensive when introduced in 1915. The exact date for launching the passport photo in German passports by law was 1. January 1915.

However, in the beginning, there were no rules on how a passport photo should look like. So, you can find the most exciting photos from this time. For me, such early passports are ART as no passport (photo) looked the same considering the handwriting, the colorful stamps and revenues, and of course, the picture itself.

Before passport photos were introduced, there was only a description of the bearer. Only the British passport was for more than 100 years, the only passport without such a description of the holder. Then typically saying, “Mr. Peter Parker, a British subject, traveling on the continent.”

The description looked like that:

  • Age
  • Stature: e.g., small, tall, etc.
  • Hair: color, bald, etc.
  • Eyes: color
  • Face: e.g., round, oval, etc.
  • Distinguishing marks: e.g., scar, tattoo, missing finger, etc.

This was, of course, not much accurate, except for a truly outstanding distinguishing mark. Introducing a photo into a passport improved the verification of its bearer significantly (in combination with the personal description). However, passport photos were not standardized in the beginning, and so you can find all variations of photos.

E.g., people standing in the park (full-size photo), sitting on a bench or a horse, or showing them playing guitar. Photos with hats were widespread. Also, the sizes of a photograph were not defined, and all sizes were possible as long there was a place to mount them into a passport.

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