The Earliest LOLCats and Other 19th-Century Animal Photography

LOLcats and other funny animal pics weren't born with the Internet; they've been around since the end of the 19th century. Here are some of the early photographs that inspired them.

Harry Whittier Frees is one of the best-known novelty photographers of the 1900s. He dressed animals in clothing and then posed them in humorous scenes.

While other animals were sometimes funnier and rabbits posed more easily, Frees preferred working with cats because he felt they captured human emotions the best.

Often the images spoke for themselves, but sometimes Frees liked to add captions. A few years ago, this image taken in 1906 circulated around the web dubbed “the first LOLCat.” A year later, one of his older images was rediscovered and took its tour of the net with the same title.

Animals are difficult subjects. Over two-thirds of Frees’ negatives had to be discarded, and the work was so stressful that he only actually photographed animals three months out of the year. The rest of the time he worked to create props and costumes for his little models.

Original postcards and books featuring Frees' photographs are incredibly valuable, but if you want to own a collection of his works while also having money for food, check out one of the reprints of The Little Folks of Animal Land.

While Harry Whittier Frees had all the components of an LOLcat over a century before they swept the internet, he wasn’t the first to come up with this formula. As it turns out, he was inspired by a lesser-known animal photographer named Harry Pointer.

While Frees’ critters tended to wear clothes, Pointer's were generally nude. (Or as nude as a creature covered in fur can get.) But being as how the photos had captions and were created a good quarter-century before those of Frees, they are almost certainly the first true LOLcat photos.

Pointer’s images are particularly impressive when you consider the limits of the photography equipment available in the 1870s. Despite the challenges though, the photographer was dedicated to his cat images and by 1884, he had published over 200 postcards in what he referred to as his “Brighton Cats” Series.

Of course, one of the greatest aspects of both Frees’ and Pointer’s work is that both photographers had impressive of patience with their cuddly little subjects. The same could not be said for Walter Potter, an artist who made fun and fanciful scenes featuring taxidermied creatures. Unfortunately, the museum that housed most of Poterr's work has been shut down and his art auctioned off to private collectors.

Of course, the trend didn’t die after Pointer, Potter and Frees passed on. Even the famous “Hang In There, Baby” motivational poster is considered to be another early version of an LOLcat. But what about other creatures? Cats don't have the market cornered on cute animal pics. Sugar Bush Squirrel isn’t an original concept. Back in the 1940s, the world’s most famous squirrel was named Tommy Tucker, and he was a star.

Tommy, owned by the Bullis family of Washington D.C., was so famous that he even was featured in LIFE Magazine.

“Tommy never seems to complain,” LIFE wrote, “although sometimes he bites Mrs. Bullis. Mrs. Bullis never complains about being bitten.” To be fair, Tommy might not have bitten Mrs. Bullis so often had she dressed him in boy-squirrel clothes once in a while.

Little information exists on the photo above, but this lady and her pet lobster prove that furry and cute creatures weren't the only early animal models.

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Google Translate Error Accidentally Insults Flat-Earthers
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Google seems to be holding nothing back in its treatment of science deniers. As spotted by Mashable, Google Translate accidentally labels flat-Earthers “crazy” when one particular phrase is translated into French.

You can try this trick for yourself—at least until Google fixes the error. On translate.google.com, select English as the original language, type “I am a flat earther” into the blank field, and choose French as the second language. The phrase translates to “Je suis un fou,” which reads as “I’m a crazy person" when it's translated back into English by clicking the icon with the two arrows on it. (Note: This doesn’t work if "Earther" is capitalized, and it seems to only work for French.)

Google representatives say this wasn't an intentional dig, though. A Google spokesman told CNET, "Translate works by learning patterns from many millions of examples of translations seen out on the web. Unfortunately, some of those patterns can lead to incorrect translations. The error has been reported and we are working on a fix."

Flat-Earthers are those who reject that the Earth is round, instead believing this to be an elaborate conspiracy orchestrated by various governments and space agencies. Members frequently use YouTube as a platform to spread their message, and the UK just held its first Flat Earth convention in April. About 200 people attended.

Intentional or not, this wouldn't be the first time Google snuck an Easter egg into its translation service. One Reddit user discovered that the “world's funniest joke” from Monty Python's Flying Circus translates to “[FATAL ERROR]” when plugged into the translator app. The joke sounds like it’s in German, but the words are actually gibberish and don't translate to anything in particular. In the skit, anyone who hears the joke dies from laughter.

Update: As of May 29, the translation error has been resolved. It now translates to "Je suis un flat earther." 

[h/t Mashable]

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How to Craft the Perfect Gag, According to Buster Keaton
Buster Keaton seen with Donald O'Connor on the set of a film in 1957
Buster Keaton seen with Donald O'Connor on the set of a film in 1957
Keystone/Getty Images

Dubbed “The Great Stone Face” for his ability to hold a deadpan expression even as the world (quite literally) crashed down around him, Buster Keaton was “one of the three great silent comedians” in film history, according to filmmaker Tony Zhou.

A video by Zhou, spotted by The Kid Should See This, explains just how Keaton managed to pull off such memorable stunts, and why his scenes continue to influence modern actors and filmmakers. First, Keaton shunned title cards and subtitles, instead opting to advance the story through action. He disliked repetition and thought each movement should be unique, while also insisting on authenticity and proclaiming that a filmmaker should “never fake a gag.” If a gag couldn’t be captured all in one shot, he wouldn’t do it.

The angle and positioning of the camera was also paramount. Many of Keaton’s vaudeville-esque gags were visual in nature, toying with the viewer’s perspective to create illusions that led to hilarious reveals. But for that to be successful, the camera had to remain stationary, and the joke had to play out entirely onscreen.

A low-speed chase scene in Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel, where Ralph Fiennes's Gustave H. runs up a long staircase in the background to escape cops, is a modern example of this. “Like Wes Anderson, Buster Keaton found humor in geometry,” Zhou says.

Check out Zhou’s video below.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

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