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Friday, October 16, 2015

Hidden Mothers ~ Ghost Mothers

Now you see her... now you see her...

During the Victorian era, and long before photographers had the ability to edit images, they employed a rather unusual technique to photograph infants and small children. These images are referred to as "Hidden Mothers" or "Ghost Mothers".  

This photo shows a "Mother" with her face scratched out.
Photography became broadly affordable during this time (mid 1800's to early 1900's) and, of course, the general population wanted to record images of their families. The challenge was photographing small babies and children, as the process of recording an image onto a "wet collodion" (an early photographic technique or process which involved adding a soluble iodide to a solution of cellulose nitrate, which coated a glass plate with the mixture, and stored the image), took about 30 seconds, which probably felt like an eternity to a squirming child.   It was ultimately up to "Mum" to hold the child still during this process.

For some strange and ultimately unknown reason, the mother was completely draped in fabric, while holding the wiggling child for enough time for the photographic exposure to take place.  In some photos, you may notice that the "mother" (who may have actually been a photographer's assistant, or perhaps a governess or nanny) is just slightly out of the picture, or partially hidden, adding to the strangeness of each capture.  You may even notice that some of the faces of "Mothers" have been completely scratched out, and there is still a debate as to exactly why the mother was "hidden".



One theory is that perhaps the images were intended to be cropped or edited, later and ultimately showing only the child or children in the final photograph; however, so many remain unedited and easily still found in circulation, that I speculate that the hidden mother phenomena may have been a common fad or a phase.

Victorians also used photography posthumously (capturing images of the dead).  If you look carefully at some of the photos, you may realize that you are looking at a dead child, as the rate of infant mortality was very high during that time.  This may have been the only opportunity they had to record an image of their little one before it was buried.  It was not unusual for either adult or child to be propped up and photographed after death.  You can see a vast collection of postmortem photography, here






Personally, I would rate these photos a 10 on the creep factor scale.  In my opinion, the Hidden Mother photos remain an oddity, and yet another strange aspect of the Victorian Era.  The result of all of these photographs are somewhat ghostly, thus warranting an October blog post on Vermont DeadLine, which is generally reserved for Halloween related topics.

"A mom’s hug lasts long after she lets go." ~Author Unknown


















Photo credits:  All photos found on Pinterest or Google Images, under the search of "hidden mothers".