Photographing Children in Our Ancestors’ Day

By Maureen A. Taylor
In honor of Mother’s Day, I’m including a short piece on photographing of children from Rhode Island photographers William Coleman and Orville Remington. They were business partners in their studio from 1867 to 1883.

During their first year, the men published a booklet advising potential customers how to dress and pose for their pictures. They also include practical advice for parents on getting pictures of their children. I find some of it quite funny and hope you do, too.

Many photographers dislike taking children. It is true, they are sometimes troublesome, and the result uncertain; but again, they are so often easy and graceful, and their pure complexions give such delicate half-tones, that some of the finest pictures are those of children, and no artist seeking after excellence would forego, even from choice, the oportunity they afford.

For very young children, it is necessary to choose a fine day, and the best light, which is usually in the forenoon.

Avoid giving or mentioning sweets to them. Do not play or fuss too much with them. Generally a child will sit best if left entirely to the operator.

The last bit of advice is still true today <grin>. Here are some pictures of “hidden mothers” (or photographer’s assistants) who often appear—partially—in old pictures of babies.

Ancestories blogger Miriam Robbin Midkiff sent in this adorable photo (above). She writes:

Attached is a photo of my husband’s maternal grandmother, Leona Mary MARTIN (on left) and her twin, Lee Joseph MARTIN, taken c. 1907 in Bonners Ferry, Idaho. If you look closely at the left side of Leona’s gown and the right side of Lee’s gown, you’ll see evidence that someone (or a couple of someones) are sitting out of sight, holding the children on the sofa. The twins would have been about a year old (they were born 17 Dec. 1906). The back says “For Grandpa and Grandma”. Only their maternal grandparents, Isaac and Rebecca (HEWITT) LUKE were still living by the time they were born. I imagine this photo was a Christmas gift.

These close-ups show the odd folds in the children’s gowns—it looks like they’re concealing grown-ups’ hands:

Donna Richmond sent this picture (below) titled “child of L.C. Hataway, Black Creek, La.” At teh baby’s waist, you can clearly see the hands of a woman hidden under the rug.

Here’s one more picture from my collection of unidentified photos of hidden women. It dates from the late 1860s. Don’t you just love the hands holding the baby’s head still?

Happy Mother’s Day!