Filed under: Vintage Photo Album | Tags: 1900s, hidden mother photography, victorian
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.
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