Invisible Mother

invisible, hidden, mother, photography, trick
Invisible mother. Stertz photographic collection. Queen’s University Archives.

This lovely ambrotype (in a union case) dates back to the 1850’s or 1860’s. The exposure times for an ambrotype varied depending on the lighting and the speed of the camera lens, sometimes requiring as much as 60 seconds. This is an important factor to keep in mind with regard to this picture – how to keep a baby still for that amount of time? This dilemma gave rise to what are referred to as the invisible or hidden mother portraits. If you look closely at this photograph, that artfully draped piece of fabric is actually covering the body of a mother (or perhaps a nanny) who is there to steady the child. Often the ghostly shapes in the background were matted out of the photo. There are many examples of invisible or hidden mothers on-line – have fun looking for those who were meant to be unseen!

Queen's Archives

Queen's Archives regular column on Kingstonist showcases our city's rich history via assets sourced from their vast collection. Their contributions stimulate dialog regarding the places, people and events that have shaped Kingston. Learn more about Queen's Archives...

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