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                  F o r  a l m o s t  t h r e e  d e c a d e s have collected what is known now as “hidden mother” tintypes, dating from the late 1800s to early 1900s. Each of these tiny images on metal---frequently no larger than 2 x 3 inches---feature a baby or small child. Because the exposures to record these portraits were several seconds long, the mother usually is in the image with the baby or child in some capacity, but great lengths were taken to conceal her behind drapery or carpets or even by scratching her away in the wet or later dry emulsion.
Long overlooked and considered on par with folk art, this genre of vernacular photography is just beginning to receive serious scholarly notice. This transformation of the images onto fabric brings the portraits to life by creating a simple illusion: when two translucent layers of identical visual information are slightly offset, our stereoscopic vision will interpret this as drifting in and out of appearing three-dimensional. The gossamer weight of the crepe de chine (which is also associated with Victorian mourning clothing since it is lightweight with a dull matte surface) further animates the images with the subtle but constant motion of the fabric. One can no longer “not see” the outlines of the hidden mothers in these now life-sized animated curtains/backdrops.

With little scholarship on this genre, designations of subcategories have been left to the imagination. There are “Draped Mothers,” “Peeking Mothers,” “Off-to-one-side Mothers,” and, ominously, the “Scraped-away Mothers.” Other details point to the relative democracy of the practice. Without a particular aim towards this, I have several diverse babies included in the archive. 
Many of the tintypes feature clipped corners, so that they could be carried on a person or slipped into paper mats and albums. Some are bent nearly in two to fit frames or conceivably to make them freestanding. All are slowly fading from being strictly photographic representations into more revealing artifacts signifying handling and wear.
The now life-sized curtain/backdrop portraits are also timely commentary on current events. With the overturn of Roe v Wade early summer 2022, the issue of women's visibility and value is again in the foreground. Addressing sometimes difficult issues by means of a creative process primes us to stay engaged in the conversation and begin to consider solutions.

A portion of the work for this exhibition was created with a College of Visual and Performing Arts Faculty Development Award, James Madison University.
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