Baby with semi-hidden mother

Click here to view it larger.

What it is:

Irregularly trimmed carte de visite (CDV) measuring a bit less than 2.5 x 4.25 inches.

What I know about it:

Photographer is Ward’s of North Adams, Massachusetts.  Otherwise undated and unidentified.

Comments:

I had a nice chat with my mother about our respective blogs (hers is here), so I thought I would post another one of the photos she gave me as a gift a while back.  The practice of the “hidden mother” dates back to the era when photographic technology required a longer exposure time, forcing the subjects to sit perfectly still for several seconds or longer (I’ve read up to a minute, depending on such factors as the chemicals used and the available light), unlike today’s photos where the exposure time is the instantaneous click of the shutter.  Back then, it was extra challenging to get decent, non-blurry photos of children (and animals, and people in strenuous poses) because it was hard to get them to stay still long enough.  Posing stands could help adults stay in place, but with babies, it was sometimes most effective to have them held by their mothers.  A convention developed in which mothers would be completely draped in fabric, as if we couldn’t see them, though of course we could.  Examples of that (including one of my own) can be seen here.   They look bizarre, even creepy, to our modern eyes.  But in the photo above, the mother is only semi-hidden, lurking in the background shadow, her hand reaching under the fabric to hold the baby’s head in place.  It seems, somehow, a more elegantly realistic solution, but it’s hard to say how it would have been viewed then.

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