Linda Fregni Nagler: The Hidden Mother

Italian artist Linda Fregni Nagler’s book The Hidden Mother collects 1.002 children portraits – tintypes, ambrotypes, snapshots, daguerreotypes, cartes de visite and cabinet cards – taken between the advent of photography and the 1920’s by mostly anonymous authors. At the time the photographs were taken, because of the slow exposure times, babies needed to be kept still by a parent concealed in the background. Covered in a cloth, cut out of the frame, even literally scratched away from the image, these hidden figures are the central theme of this work by Linda Fregni Nagler.The Hidden Mother is comprised of 1,002 photographs (from daguerreotypes and tintypes to cartes de visite and cabinet cards), all examples of a now redundant practice: to cloak or hide a parent within the background of a child’s portrait, a common procedure from the advent of photography up until the 1920s, when exposure times were relative slow, and a hidden parent was required to hold the child still.

United Kingdom – 

 

In the vein of Francis Alÿs’s Fabiola and Andy Warhol’s Time Capsules, Linda Fregni Nagler has collected seemingly nondescript images and accumulated a meaningful archive, thereby giving them a renewed purpose and intensity.

The Hidden Mother is comprised of 1,002 photographs (from daguerreotypes and tintypes to cartes de visite and cabinet cards), all examples of a now redundant practice: to cloak or hide a parent within the background of a child’s portrait, a common procedure from the advent of photography up until the 1920s, when exposure times were relative slow, and a hidden parent was required to hold the child still.

These hidden mothers can be discerned in the background of every one of these portraits – looming behind their children, swaddled in blankets, carpets and brocades as they support their progeny as the central subject. The iterations vary, and in some instances the hidden mother is revealed as a single hand, while in others the child is seated on a shrouded figure, or the parent is quite literally hiding – ensuring that the child’s identity is transposed over their own.

 

hidden_mother_10

 

The images hold a certain degree of comedy – albeit unintentional – because the viewer is asked to suspend their disbelief, to ‘not see’ the hidden figure. Some contemporary onlookers would have simply not seen the portrait’s hidden mother, indicative of the cultural nature of the act of seeing. For other viewers, the hidden figure was an essential part of the picture: high infant mortality rates meant that posthumous portraits were the norm, and thus the hidden mother would signify to the viewer that this child was alive.

Creating and defining a sub-genre of photography, Fregni Nagler has accumulated images that repeat a particular gesture – the negation of the parent in the interest of the legibility of the child. The many themes bubbling under the surface of her collection are unified by the singular principle of effacement – as if this gesture speaks of the nature of parenthood itself, or of women’s place in a patriarchal society, where she is figured without an identity of her own.

The collection also confronts the inevitable self-effacing nature of the photographer and the collector. The artist herself seems to hover over these images like a mother – conserving and safeguarding these photographs; as collector, presenter and curator of the collection, Fregni Nagler herself becomes another hidden mother.

 

“The Hidden Mother – Linda Fregni Nagler’s The Hidden Mother is one of the most fascinating projects I have come across in 2013. It is a book which shows how in early days of photography,  the mothers were hidden in the background, holding their child still.  Getting your children photographed had become quite a trend in those days and how the ‘hidden parent’ would play the most important role by being in the picture and still hiding themselves.’It is this very failure of the attempt to hide the protagonist of The Hidden Mother  that I celebrate here,’ to quote Fregni.” – Manik Katyal, Editor-in-chief, Emaho Magazine

 

  • The Hidden Mother by Linda Fregni Nagler
  • Texts by Massimiliano Gioni, Geoffrey Batchen and a conversation between Francesco Zanot & Linda Fregni Nagler
  • Softcover with a die cut dustjacket
  • 23.8 cm x 28.6 cm
  • 432 pages, 1,002 colour plates
  • ISBN: 978-1-907946-53-0
  • Photography and Published by MACK and the Nouveau Musée National de Monaco 

Related Posts

Tiane Doan na Champassak: Kolkata

India –  August, 1943. Night is falling on Calcutta, silencing its flocks of ravens, but wakening another kind of life …

Lina Hashim: “Unlawful Meetings” – Photographing Young Muslim Couples Sexual Encounter

Denmark –  Like any of the major religions, Islam seeks to regulate sexual relationships between members of their society through …

The Yellow River – Zhang Kechun

China – The Yellow River Surging Northward Rumblingly Saying that it is a song might have been a popular joke. …

Matthieu Gafsou: Only God Can Judge Me

Switzerland –  Based out of Lausanne, Switzerland, Photography feature – Matthieu Gafsou spent more than a year immersed in the lives of …

Ghosts of Genocide : Palash Krishna Mehrotra on Ziyah Gafic

Bosnia : Book Review : Quest For Identity By Palash Krishna Mehrotra By themselves, these are ordinary objects. These are objects that …

Helio Leon Purple Room

Helio Leon: “The Purple Room” – Reliving Istanbul Memories

Turkey –                               THIS STORY CONTAINS …

Jan Brykczynski: “Boiko” – Exploring the Rural Reality of Ukrainian Carpathian Mountains

Poland – Those Boikos are the most mysterious tribe the length and breadth of the Carpathians. No-one else is quite …

Diana Matar: “Evidence” – Photographing Six years of Political Disappearance

Libya –  Years ago Photography feature –  Diana Matar‘s father-in-law, a Libyan opposition leader, was kidnapped by the Egyptian secret …

John Vink: ‘The photographer is not a hero’

Cambodia- Based out of Cambodia for the past 13 years, Belgium born photojournalist John Vink, member of the prestigious Magnum …