News from around the photo board world

Four things from the world of face in hole boards have caught our attention this week. The ever-popular props have been spotted in various locations, and one of them featured George R.R. Martin, author of Game of Thrones!

We might as well start with legendary photo board addict Tomoyuki Shioya. We’ve written about him before because he is such a photo board star. Here’s his latest photo, taken somewhere in Japan but featuring a scene from a different culture.

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Shioya, expressionless as always, in a Mexican or Spanish fiesta scene
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He is only happy when his face is in a face in hole board, though he does not allow himself to show it.

Shioya posts almost daily on Facebook, has been interviewed on Japanese TV and for newspapers, and is something of a celebrity. His hobby is called ‘Kaohame’ in Japanese, which means ‘insert face’. Naturally we love him.

Game of Thrones fans will like this: GoT author George R.R. Martin was at Comic Con last Friday and decided to step into the role of Daenarys Targaryen, a major character in the series.  An quick-thinking fan snapped a wonky selfie with Martin/Daenarys.

George R.R. Martin, Daenarys Targaryen, Game of Thrones, face in hole board
He really gets into his characters.

Last Christmas a church in Ashton-upon-Mersey, Cheshire,  invited its congregation to literally get into the Nativity story by having face in hole boards made featuring the holy family and the Three Wise Kings. Area residents were encouraged to spread the good news by sharing their snaps on Social Media with hashtag #inthestory. This is another creative way to use photo cutout boards to promote a product or cause. Well done St Mary’s Church!

face in hole, head in hole, nativity, mary, joseph, three wise men, baby jesus
Residents were able to participate directly in the Nativity story

There’s a good board on Pinterest dedicated to photo cutout boards, full of ideas from around the web, including some of our own boards. Check it out here. And we also have our own Pinterest boards you can follow and share here.

head in hole boards, face in hole boards, pinterest

British seaside culture is worth preserving!

British seaside, heritage, museums, face-in-hole boards
Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside … do you?

We live in hopes that British seaside culture is making  a comeback as people rediscover its traditional delights: rock, sand, sun, candy floss, donkey rides, crazy golf and face-in-hole boards for holiday snaps.

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Skinny Jimmy, a classic seaside photo cutout board

A new initiative to bring together Britain’s seaside heritage experts and museum collections aims to celebrate and preserve interest in the seaside. Spearheaded by Scarborough Museums Trust, The Seaside Heritage Network aims to:

  • Promote the value of seaside heritage and culture
  • Further understand and research the British seaside and seaside–related collections
  • Locate custodians of seaside heritage and share knowledge and expertise
  • Provide membership to professionals working with seaside collections and all those interested in seaside history, heritage and culture.

We think this is brilliant. The seaside has taken a hit in recent years, with the loss by fire of 3 beautiful piers: Weston Super Mare, Hastings and then Eastbourne’s exquisite pier. Government funding for seaside resorts has been thin. Arguably, the semi-neglected state of many of our seaside towns has become part of their charm. But it would be nice to see them given a new coat of paint. Preserving the culture and artefacts that made them great is vital for maintaining interest in the seaside as well as bringing it into the 21st century without losing its quintessentially English identity.

Pier review, british seaside heritage
Hopefully not a swansong

In February this year, John Bounds and Danny Smith published a book titled Pier Review: A Road Trip in Search of the Great British Seaside. Its cover blurb starts with: ‘Before the seaside of their youth disappears forever, two friends from the landlocked Midlands embark on a peculiar journey to see all the surviving pleasure piers in England and Wales.’ The Seaside Heritage Network will help towards ensuring that the seaside of the authors’ youth does not disappear forever and will be there for future generations to enjoy.

Project Manager Esther Graham, of Scarborough Museums, said: ‘From the introduction of bathing machines to ‘Kiss Me Quick’ hats, the seaside resort culture of the UK is absolutely unique … because a lot of the items relating to the days out at the seaside that we all remember are seen as throwaway, more often than not they’re not preserved. We’re in danger of losing a remarkable part of our collective culture.’

Partner organisations include Southend Museums Service, Hastings Museum and Art Gallery, Manx National Heritage, Blackpool Museum Project and the National Piers Society.

Face-in-hole boards: a bit of history

coolidge, comic foregrounds, face in hole boards
People could be silly in those days too.

Face-in-hole boards are a Great British seaside tradition – but where did they actually originate? Surely they started in English Victorian times during the great bathing hut and donkey ride epoch? Not so fast.

Our brains seem to be hard-wired to find it funny when a disembodied head becomes part of a fictional scene. The first time a cave dweller put their face through a hole in an animal skin to amuse the children, the first face-in-hole was born. Sadly there weren’t any cameras then, and cave paintings mostly depict hunting rather than heartwarming domestic scenes.

What more can we say? Well, some seem to think they might have an extraterrestrial origin:

photo cutout board, aliens, peep board, standee board
Even aliens need to have fun

We need to look to more recent times, and preferably here on Earth, to find any documented evidence.

Some theorise that the whole ‘disembodied head’ thing is linked to the French Revolution and the horrified response it got from across the Channel in the cartoons of James Gilray.

Jmes Gilray, comic foregrounds, face in hole boards,
How this became funny is not entirely clear.

The theory goes that this spirit of social justice somehow morphed into a game called ‘The Clothes Make The Man’, which first appeared around 1820. In the game, a series of drawn figures wear clothes typical of various levels of contemporary society, from the street beggar to the King. The faces are cut out and can be changed around. The infotainment value lay in seeing how the same face topping a figure clad in rags, and a figure clad in robes, was perceived according to the attire. Faces in holes thus became a form of social satire.

The clothes make the man, social satire, face in hole, peep board, photo cutout board
Face-in-hole as social satire, c.1820

Perhaps this was the beginning of the humorous, satirical, fun-poking spirit of what we now know as face in hole boards.

One strong contender for the ‘invention’ of face in hole boards in their modern fairground/carnivalesque context was Cassius Marcellus Coolidge. An American artist born in 1844, he is famous for his paintings of dogs playing poker.

dogs playing poker
Who said ‘Squirrel!’?

In 1874 Coolidge was granted a patent for ‘…producing caricature photographic pictures by means of a board or card of stiff material having a miniature body or other design thereon, the same being held up close to the person or subject to be photographed, arranged so as to represent a complete, although disproportioned, figure.’

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The front page of Coolidge’s patent application

So the first boards to be commercialised were not quite face-in-hole, but face-above-comically-small-body. Coolidge then expanded his business to include bigger scenes such as this, which were face-in-hole, although it’s hard to see the join here:

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One of Coolidge’s later comic foregrounds

Coolidge marketed them with the tagline “Now is the time to order Coolidge’s comic foregrounds for making holiday post cards!”

And it is with postcards that we finally arrive at the British seaside. We, the British, took the fun, silly spirit of earlier cutout ideas and turned it into a bawdy festival of littoral lechery. The undisputed king of seaside oo-errr was Donald McGill. Quite a lot of his output was banned by the guardians of public decency, including these:

smutty postcards
‘… and the Manager wants to try me in a different position each day’













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An unfeasibly large stick of rock


McGill postcard raid
The scene of a big postcard bust in 1952





















It’s all down to swimsuits, really. Once the Victorians had got over themselves, British beaches became spotting grounds for the sweaty, balding man with binoculars McGill seemed to think lived inside each one of us. The promise of a trip to the seaside, for bored fathers, lay in the glimpses of thigh and boob to be had while pretending to study shipping through the goggle glasses. It was a huge attraction. Now you could have skimpy with your scampi.

British cutout boards sprang from this saucy genre when they were blown up to life-size and had face holes cut in them to create the ultimate interactive alter-egos. Not only could you escape to the seaside, you could escape from your own body by substituting it with another, set in a cartoon world of bright colours and hedonism. Arguably an early form of virtual reality, it was good for business, attracting more families to the edges of the country so they could buy industrial amounts of rock and cockles – and ogle at everyone’s wobbly bits.

We’ve seen some American and British origins of face-in-hole boards. But are they solely an anglophone phenomenon?

Not on your nelly. In Japan face-in-hole boards are used prolifically as marketing tools, and are also considered an art form. It is called ‘Kaohame’ in Japanese, which means ‘insert face’. One notable proponent whom we have posted about is Tomoyuki Shioya, who has made it his mission in life to travel Japan sticking his face in any board he can find and recording the event. At the time of writing this, he has done over 2,400 boards and is showing no sign of slowing down.

beefeater cutout board
A highly tenuous link to British face-in-hole boards

He’s clearly a nutter, but a good sort of nutter, and we have nothing but admiration for him. He takes it seriously enough never to smile, but always to have a neutral expression – to ‘give the boards the respect they deserve.’ Rock on, Tomoyuki!

The French call face-in-hole boards ‘Tintamarresques’. Maybe they got the idea from us – the English Channel is narrow enough, after all. ‘Tintamarre’ in French means ‘a din, a cacophony, a raucous sound’. It also applies to a form of caricature not a million miles from that of James Gilray. Its most famous proponent was Touchatout, who wrote a comic history of France with illustrations like this:

napoleon, tintamarresque
Big head, small body. Seems to be a theme here.

At around the turn of the last century, a Swedish folk comedian named Calle Lindström used a practice that was apparently common in Swedish variety hall entertainment: the tintamarresque theatre. Basically he would poke his head through a painted scene and do a routine like that for giggles. His natural comic talent made him hugely popular.

The Russians have their own version, which they call ‘Tantamareska.’ Here’s a YouTube video of a Tantamareska event.

Most countries probably have some version of face-in-the hole boards. They are universally considered amusing and are used to attract attention at events, for marketing purposes or for simple photo fun. We’d like to leave the last word on the subject to Walter Knott, an American entrepreneur who in 1930s California created a theme park featuring, among much else, face-in-hole boards:

“You’ll never know how good you look, until ya gits yer pitchur took.”