Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Hidden Mothers Victorian Photography

Anyone with kids knows how incredibly difficult it is to get a good picture of your sweet smiling child.  Now, imagine you're a mom of the Victorian age.  Photographs are expensive.  If you want to get your money's worth and get a nice picture of your sweet darling, you're going to have to be creative.  And that's where "hidden mothers" come into play in Victorian photography.  A "hidden mother" is either a child's mother or photographer's assistant draped in some sort of curtain or cloth while holding the child still during the photograph.

Tintype with hidden mother in black 1880s-1900s

Most of the time, these small Victorian photographs (tintypes) would have a mat around them that would essentially hide the hidden mother.  But it's fascinating (and kind of creepy) to see a hidden mother or blob of black sheet holding up a baby in these pictures.
Tintype with a not so hidden mother 1890s?

Tintype with a suspected hidden mother 1880s-1900s

The problem with taking a picture of a baby in Victorian times, even with a hidden mother, was that the child would almost always move at some point during the two to three minute time for exposure.  That's why in some of the pictures, children's (or adult's) eyes look a little strange.  It's kind of hard to not blink for three minutes.  Or other pictures have kids with blurry arms or legs - kids who were moving.  It almost makes me wonder about the kids who were perfectly still during the entire time.  I've heard that some parents would give their children a sedative right before the picture so they would stay still.
Hidden mother playing the part of a chair 1880s-1900s

There are other pictures from this time period that have an even more twisted and macabre look to them.  Post mortem Victorian photography.  When a loved one died, family members often decided to remember them by taking a photograph.  Sometimes the deceased would be lying on a bed or a couch as if they were sleeping.  Other times they would be laid out in a coffin.  The creepiest of these types of pictures are the ones where the departed looks to be alive.  Sitting up and posed artificially as if to appear lifelike.

Daguerreotype of a baby - Post Mortem?  1850s-1860s?

Often times the deceased person's eyes would be painted onto the picture after it had been developed.  Arms and legs at times were tied in place to furniture, and hidden mothers or other family members would pose with the dead family member.
Some more framed daguerreotypes we have 1840s-1860s

No hidden mother in this tintype - cute kid though

Tintype of baby - hidden mother in the corner 1880s-1900s

Tintype of a child kneeling

We have tons of these old photographs in various boxes that Terry's found in some of the estate sales he's gone to in Pennsylvania.  Last year, during a family camping trip to Gettysburg, we thought about getting our own old fashioned tintype picture taken in civil war costume.  But I don't think I could play the part of the hidden mother to keep my three year old still, so we decided to pass.  Maybe when she's older.

1 comment:

  1. i can't imagine sitting there with a sheet over me, and holding my squirmy child!!! thank goodness for modern photographic technology!