The Victorian images of a shrouded adult behind a baby may look creepy to us, but evidently they were the norm when it took nearly 30 seconds to take a picture of a squirmy tot.
“In America, it was common practice for the mother … to hold the child steady during the long exposure, since any wriggling would blur the image,” says Linda Fregni Nagler, an Italian-Swedish photographer who has collected a thousand of these photographs in The Hidden Mother. “Yet at the same time, the mother was expected to hide any sign that she was actually in the frame,” she tells the Telegraph.
It was this picture, which Nagler found on eBay — with the caption “funny baby with hidden mother” — that inspired her. “I thought how peculiar it was for a picture to be described by what isn’t there,” she says.
Some mothers tried to blend into the background with unintentionally funny results.
Still, it begs the question: Why did the mothers go to such lengths to hide?
That’s what the experts can’t really explain.
One theory notes that in an age of high infant mortality, parents routinely posed for posthumous photos that showed them cradling their dead baby. An image of a child by himself would have told the viewer that the baby was alive and well, jug ears and all.
We took a look at why people don’t smile in old photographs here.