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Babies can be difficult to photograph – there’s no doubt...

Babies can be difficult to photograph – there’s no doubt about that. But imagine how much more difficult it was in the late 1800’s using glass wet-plate technology and long exposures, sometimes 30sec or more.

So how does the State Library hold so many beautiful, sharp images of happy babies and toddlers from this era? The secret is under the backdrop. Look closely and you’ll see a mum-shaped bump under the baby. Photographers learnt that the best way to get a baby to smile for the camera, or at least not struggle for the duration of the exposure, was to have them held firmly in place by a familiar hand. Slightly creepy, but highly effective!

After so many years in the background these unseen mothers are finally enjoying a limelight of their own.

Some examples of “Hidden Mother” images, such as the ones displayed here can be found in the State Library’s Holtermann glass plate collection. Holtermann founded the American and Australasian Photographic Company, this collection of 3,500 collodian wet glass plates has been recently digitised. You can read more about this project on our Holtermann collection blog or in Discover Collections.