19th Century Photo-portraits: ‘Invisible’ mothers and visible babies

A rather curious form of portrait photographs emerged from about the mid to late 19th century – a ‘form innovation’ necessitated by a frailty of early photographic technologies viz. low emulsion sensitivity, and, consequently lengthy exposure times. The subject had to stay still for a fairly long stretch. Photographing adults was less of challenge then, but when it came to restless, excitable babies and children, the mothers were often cloaked or ‘disguised’ as supports for them, to get them to be calm and still. Mothers often covered themselves in black (or other) cloth to hold their children upright for the benefit of the camera. Sometimes the babies were propped upright from behind with the parent’s hands. Extra long child garments were also used to help hide the mother’s legs and body. The resultant images are a telling commentary on 19th century norms and photographic practice, however strange you may find them in the 21st. Take a look.








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13 Comments on "19th Century Photo-portraits: ‘Invisible’ mothers and visible babies"

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It’s not really odd. If you research this a little more you;ll find that the photos weren’t meant to be seen in this form. They were always put into oval shaped frames so that all the viewer saw was the child. It’s the only way they could ensure a good photo of the child by him or herself. Mentally draw a little oval over the kid in each photo above and you’ll see what people saw in the finished product.


I am a sucker for the past… :)


haha, the hand holding up the baby,,,oh well whatever works,,


Glad I was not a Mom getting a photo taken then with my toddler! ;)

Carlene R

would it not have been more lovely to have the mother clearly seen lovingly holding the baby..??


Excellent material from the archives. Wonder how it was like in other parts of the world, like in india for example, around the same time.

Darren Lefkowitz

Fascinating piece of history here, of course it looks odd now, could not help smiling

s ariza

i imagine it must have been pretty uncomfortable for the mother more than anyone else…cloaked, trying to sit still and control babies and children

Anahita Singh

Some of them are certainly better done than the others, depends on how professional the cameraman was maybe,,,delightful to look at these..

nelson kucharski

it is interesting that the Krith (?) Bros chose to describe their business as fine art studios..these are actually extensions of paintings..


Time capsule. TY!


The ultralong baby garments are so surreal. :)