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Hidden Mothers — England

by Anne Miltenburg

From the advent of photography in the 1840s until around the 1920s, an age when painted portraits had been replaced by far quicker and cheaper photographs, middle-class parents were now able and eager to have their offspring immortalised using the fancy new technology. But while bouncy toddlers had been an exercise in patience for painters, they became an impossibility for early photographers, who depended on their models being as still as possible for as long as 30 seconds while the camera captured their images on wet collodion. To pacify the youngest infants, mothers were camouflaged in dark cloths or flowered drapes to match the backdrop, and posed like furniture. The results are startlingly spooky. Depending on where your sympathies lie, you might be shocked by the lumps of cloth which appear to be on the point of devouring toddlers, or alternately by the burqa-like effect which makes the mothers invisible in a time when women’s rights were still virtually non-existent.

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