The Long Way Home

Hidden Mother
March 27, 2014, 9:30 PM
Filed under: Vintage Photo Album | Tags: , ,
The Hidden Mother by Linda Fregni Nagler

The Hidden Mother by Linda Fregni Nagler

A few years ago, “hidden mother” photography buzzed about the ‘net – surreal, creepy photos of Victorian mothers with blankets thrown over their heads while their children sat around them, posing for pictures. I loved these eerie photos, but I wondered: Weren’t children terrified  sitting on the lap of a dark specter? The photographer in me fretted over composition: Why leave the obviously hidden person in the photo, when all it did was call attention to the person who wished to stay hidden?  Linda Fregni Nagler’s The Hidden Mother (MACK) addresses some of these questions in a series of over 1,000 “hidden mother” images. She explains that in the early days of photography, when long exposure times demanded people’s patience, the subject had to keep still. It was difficult to get children to do this for solo portraits, especially for a stranger, so mothers would drape themselves in heavy cloth to keep the focus on the child. In the early days of photography, composition was less important than keeping a visual record of a person, especially in a time with high infant mortality rates. These photos could have been the first image of a person’s life, or their last and only one. In studying the images, I discovered other types of “hidden mother” (and father) photos, ones that show a  disembodied arm reaching out to hold a baby, or the top of a woman’s head as she crouches behind a chair. I bought the first hidden mother photo (below) thinking it was an interesting photographer’s mistake, but now I’m more curious about the faceless woman skirting the edges of the frame.

"Hidden mother" photo found in Beaver Falls, PA.

“Hidden mother” photo found in Beaver Falls, PA.

"Hidden mother" photo from Bethlehem, PA - a gift from my friend Roya.

“Hidden mother” photo from Bethlehem, PA – a gift from my friend Roya.

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14 Comments so far
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Did they have a hidden mommy dog to keep that puppy still? :)

Comment by Bill

that dog may very well be taxidermy :O.

Comment by Lisa

Freeze dried, maybe!

Comment by Bill


Comment by Lisa

I bet that the photo of my grandfather is a hidden mother photo- mother must be super hidden!

Comment by jeff

I considered including your grandfather’s photo, but it’s so huge, I wasn’t sure how to photograph it!

Comment by Lisa

It must have been frustrating to have to shoot baby photos before the usability of faster shutter speeds.

Comment by Eric

I know! That and pets – any pet photo I come across, I’m alwaya amazed if the picture isn’t blurry (then I study it to see if it’s taxidermy!).

Comment by Lisa

Do you have any of the post-mortem photos? I picked up a tin type of an “Uncle George” a few months ago. It’s creepy, but fun.

Comment by Eric

We do! Here are a few from our collection:
Now you have me curious about this “Uncle George” – a type of photo or an actual person?

Comment by Lisa

Actual person! The tintype has “Uncle George” scratched into the back of it. This is one where the subject is posed. If you notice, in those kinds of shots, the hands are always freaky and sort of contorted.

I love the funeral shots! Great stuff!

Comment by Eric

what! holy shit – that is amazing. when we’re searching through photos, that’s what we examine: the hands, the eyes.

Comment by Lisa

Fascinating and bizarre. I did like the dog in the Bethlehem shot. Thanks for sharing.

Comment by Michael Williamson

I like that Bethlehem shot too, mainly because it’s outdoors – it’s rare to see pets, a hidden mother, and an outdoor theme. This photo’s got it all!

Comment by Lisa

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