It was fashionable for Victorian photographers to drape mothers with fabric so they were invisible to the viewer — yet a calming presence to the posing children. The mothers were meant to fade into the background of the shot, like furniture.
Gwen Tuinman is a novelist, born and raised in rural southern Ontario. Fascinated by the landscape of human tenacity, she writes about people navigating the social restrictions of their era. Her storytelling is influenced by an interest in bygone days. As a mentor, she helps women writers to shed emotional armour so they can reclaim their self-expression, dream bigger and learn to guide themselves through new creative risks. Gwen lives in the Kawartha Lakes region with her husband. Her forthcoming novel will be published in the spring of 2024 by Random House Canada.
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Meet Gwen …
Gwen Tuinman is a novelist, born and raised in rural southern Ontario. Fascinated by the landscape of human tenacity, she tells stories about people navigating the social restrictions of their era. Her storytelling is influenced by an interest in bygone days. Gwen lives in the Kawartha Lakes region with her husband.
April 24, 2014 at 2:11 pm
I’ve never heard of this before. Or seen any pictures. Fascinating. And weird. Would love to know more. Can you recommend a source? Book or link?
April 24, 2014 at 5:15 pm
Hi Carin. When I first saw one of these photos, I found something about them off-putting. It took a moment for me to focus in on the covered figure. I took it as a commentary on the value placed on women. As it turns out, there are some practical aspects in terms of preventing the blurring of the photo. There must have been a better way and that leads me back to the undervaluing of women at that time.
This link shares some details: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/photography/10475137/Early-Victorian-family-portraits-and-the-disappearing-mother.htm
April 24, 2014 at 3:48 pm
I wonder who came up with that bizarre idea! There’s something sinister about not wanting the mother’s face to appear, which makes the photos very eerie rather than touching children’s portraits. It is fascinating and something I’d never heard of.
April 24, 2014 at 5:20 pm
It is rather peculiar, isn’t it. Young children moved around a lot and caused blurring in the photos. If that was the case, I wonder why the mother didn’t just appear in the photo with them.
I included a link to The Telegraph in my reply to Carin. Maybe you would like that too.
April 25, 2014 at 3:32 pm
Thanks Gwen, I read the article – really fascinating.
April 26, 2014 at 7:40 am
Fascinating. I didn’t know about this practice but I understand the importance of keeping children still. I spend time in Arab countries so I’m used to seeing women completely covered, including eyes. I also cover myself when I’m in very strict countries. However to see an English woman in England covered like this is disturbing.
April 26, 2014 at 9:10 am
It is interesting to hear how this resonates with you, being a world traveler. I think a number of viewers agree with you and find the photos unsettling. Thank you for sharing this perspective.