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February 21, 2014

Mothers: Aren't They Important?

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My husband often smirks when I complain about the unlikelihood of a photographer in one or the other film being able to shoot off several perfect shots with that lens, that shutter speed, and that lack of light - which actually happens quite often; it's clear that I truly appreciate photography and how difficult it is to catch that perfect shot at times.

So I have to say that Victorian photographers - man, they had it rough, and they truly must have loved their craft. To struggle to compose a photo and then expose it on their choice of medium for at least 30 seconds takes true dedication. And then to take photos of the dead without squirming? Another point. Taking photos of babies sitting perfectly still (which happens only when they're newborns, if you're lucky)? Another point.

But why are the mothers not important in the majority of those images?

According to this Guardian article, in the Victorian age, it was routine during a photo session with babies to have the mother hold the baby - only they were disguised as a chair covered with a coat, or wrapped in a curtain, or, in some cases, their faces are completely blacked or whited out. (Here is a link to a slideshow of images)

I wonder why this is?

I suppose that one does not always want one's image to be recorded for all time. Maybe it's a 'mother'-thing to not want your photograph taken. But maybe this is something that women have grown up believing - that we don't belong in photos unless we're perfect. And let's face it, mothers seldom feel perfect. Women in the Victorian era were limited to the domestic sphere, though, so it is strange that they would be left out of the photos of their own children?

As with today, the pressure on women to look a certain way must have been palpable, even then. And I think there was a lot more pressure to match expectations back then, especially since the majority of women still depended on a good marriage match. Here is a great link on Victorian Age stereotypes for the female kind.

Why do you think the mothers were excluded from the photos of their babies?

{Image credit: Wikimedia Commons\Edward S Curtis}

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