The first photographic images in the late 1820s had to be exposed for hours in order to capture them on film. Improvements in the technology led to this exposure time being drastically cut down to minutes, then seconds, throughout the 19th century. But in the meantime, the long exposures gave us a few unmistakable Victorian photography conventions, such as the stiff postures and unsmiling faces of people trying to remain perfectly still while their photograph was being taken.
Seems children were just as squirmy then as they are today, because another amusing convention developed: photographs containing hidden mothers trying to keep their little ones still enough for a non-blurry picture. These fantastic portraits of children all contain their mother, disguised as chairs or camouflaged under decorative throws behind them.
Many of the children are obviously propped up by the extended arm of their mothers and some of the cover-up jobs are so bad you have to wonder why the mother wasn’t just included outright in the photo instead of children cuddling up to a hovering sheet. At any rate, an interesting phenomenon. Also check out the follow-up post with links to Victorian post-mortem photography, as well as the Hidden Mother Flickr group, which contains many more photos.