If you’ve ever tried to get a small child to sit still for a studio portrait, you know what a tricky proposition that can be.
Now, imagine if you were trying to do it in the 19th century, when successful images could only be made with long exposures during which the child had to remain completely still.
“There were many devices to hold the body still during a long exposure,” says curator and photographer Laura Larson, “but they wouldn’t work on the children. An adult can sort of straighten up, but babies don’t do that.”
To pull it off, those early photographers — and mothers — had to get creative. Often, it meant having the mother in the studio to keep the child calm but somehow making sure the mother didn’t appear in the picture.
“They would cover her in fabric [and] hide her behind furniture and props that were used in the studio,” explains Larson. Photographers could also paint or scratch out the mother on the negative to make the child appears to be alone in the photo. The surprising and sometimes disturbing results are on display now at Portland’s Blue Sky Gallery.
Larson began collecting images of what she calls the “Hidden Mother” five years ago, when she was about to become a mother herself.
“To me they just really struck a cord in terms of thinking about the experience of maternity and how being a mother is both the process of being close and far away,” says Larson.
Larson, who is also a professor of photography at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, will give an artist talk about the exhibition at Blue Sky Gallery on Saturday, August 9, 2014, at 3:00 p.m. The exhibition opens at 6:00 p.m. tonight at Blue Sky Gallery.