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Look a little harder, though, and you begin to unravel the visual and emotional dynamics in play.
The bundled-up figure is actually the child’s mother.
There’s also the example of the woman who has swathed the top part of her body in cloth but forgotten about her legs, which remain conspicuously on view. In a few of the pictures the mothers’ faces have been scratched out altogether.
“I thought how peculiar it was for a picture to be described by what isn’t there,” she recalls.Every page reveals the lengths mothers went to in order to extend their repertoire of disguises.Some have covered themselves in flowery chintz and pretend to be armchairs.The only difference is that in modern photography there’s no tradition of blanking out Mum.Either she’s there, interacting joyfully with the new arrival, or else she’s tactfully absent, leaving the spotlight focused on her photogenic bundle. “In America it was common practice for the mother, or other caretaker, to hold the child steady during the long exposure, since any wriggling would blur the image,” explains Linda Fregni Nagler, an Italian-Swedish photographer who is based in Milan and has collected over a thousand of these early mother-and-baby photographs.