What are "hidden mother" photographs?

There was no Photoshopping people 
out of Victorian tintypes, 
so other methods were used.

In early photographs, a subject had to sit still because of long camera exposure times. When that subject was a squirming baby or small child, they were sometimes held in a lap or reassured by an adult hand, either from a photographer's assistant, relative, nanny, or father, but primarily by the child's mother. Whether they're mothers or not, collectors call these photos "hidden mother photographs."

Since customers wanted photographs that showed only the children, photographers had to get creative to block out the other person.

A mother would drape herself in fabric or attempt to hide herself out of the camera's view. That way, after the photo was developed, it would be placed behind a mat or frame which would crop out the mother, thereby deceiving the viewer into thinking the child was posing alone.

There were many techniques used to disguise the mother.

Here, a mom simply holds her child.

When matted, mom is mostly cropped out.

Here, you can see the edges of the mat.

And the image of mom is hidden
(it's a haunting image, by the way.) 

How does mom hide?
Here, she's both a lap 
and the backdrop holder.

The "off to one side" technique

The "off to one side, disguised 
as a drape" technique

"Hopefully, nobody will notice 
my hand holding up the baby's head"

I think this baby noticed.
(The clamp.)

Here, mom disguises herself 
as a chair. Lots of cover is 
provided by baby's copious gown.

Now if the background had been black, 
this might have worked a little better.

The inadvertently floating baby - 
a Spiritualist portrait

This photo, taken at home, 
eliminates the mother, but how 
can it be matted?
Was she just camera shy? 
Or was she unclear on the concept?

Again the covering.
This one is creepy.
Notice that the hood has eye-holes.

Scratching out

Sometimes a photographer would scratch out or manipulate a photo to eliminate the face, which might have been done to remove the photographer's assistant from the picture.

Find the hidden mother

How good could a "hidden mom" hide? Test your skill and try to find where she's hiding in these 5 photos.



Mirror image

Puffy chair


See more hidden mother photographs at this Flickr group: Hidden Mother: Tintypes and Cabinets, Flickr>>
- The Invisible Mother, Retronaut>>


  1. I want one! These must be cool to collect.

  2. 100 years from now there's nothing we'll see in photoshop stuff. sad.

  3. Because many of these were tintypes, there were no negatives and all the photographs were done as direct positives, so much of the manipulation of the subjects had to be done in front of the camera. But there exist examples of painted tintypes, where an artist not only "improved" the image by adding color to the photograph, but added details such as fancy jewelry or clothing. Some of these images resemble paintings more than photographs.

    1. Bonnie, Do you have a reference for the "...added details such as fancy jewelry or clothing."? I have seen example t
      where I believe military uniforms and metals were added to the photo with opaque paint. I would like to know if anyone has more details or examples to demonstrate this.

  4. I never heard of these before. Thanks!


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