This was a practice where the mother, often disguised or hiding, often under a spread, holds her baby tightly for the photographer to insure a sharply focused image.
– The Hidden Mother
Now I understand that this practice originated when exposure times were slow meaning subjects had to sit perfectly still to render themselves sharply. I get that some families wanted only to have a portrait of their offspring with no parents. I still find the pictures a little macabre and creepy. I know that I'm looking with a modern eye and that what I'm seeing was 'standard practice' for the photographer and subjects but I can't help feeling that the pictures resonate with our society's underlying desire to make mothers invisible at the expense of their families. We don't pay mothers to do what they do … we expect it. The need of the next generation are put, quite rightly, first but at the expense of and often with hidden cost to the mother. The Invisible Mother.
So here we have a series of pictures which had they been taken today could be hailed as a representation of the western social invisibilty of motherhood … but that's not why they were made.
Interesting stuff to ponder … what do you think?
Footnote: I found these fascinating photographs over at BlueMilk and liked them so much I'm referencing the original site Retronaut where you can find a stack of these images.