Linda Fregni Nagler

The Hidden Mother


Inhabiting a place between what is visible and what is not, The Hidden Mother is a collection of predominantly late-nineteenth century portraits, the principle subjects of which are present in frame but absent from view. They are mothers who have modestly sacrificed their own depiction in order to exultantly exhibit their precious infants as the centrepieces of the photographic ritual. In a bid to overcome the limitations of the extended photographic exposure, these women have transformed themselves into maternal armatures, concealed and camouflaged by various materials of domesticity, in order to anonymously cradle the subject of the commission.

Over the last decade, Italian artist Linda Fregni Nagler has accumulated over a thousand photographs containing hidden mothers, and in this work, has curated and defined a poignant new archive on the discourse of motherhood and of maternal absence. The repetitive gesture that lays at the centre of this narrative may be bound to the technical inadequacies of the medium at the time, but in denying themselves, these mothers speak vividly to the contemporary role of women in society; they illustrate how readily motherhood could be sacrificed to help reinforce and make explicit the connection between the child and the viewer of the photograph – for this distinction was the foundation of the portrait. The work also speaks to the catastrophic fear of infant mortality hung heavy in the Victorian family and for many, the photographic portrait was a posthumous event.

The Hidden Mother is a photographic casket of lost memories, of anonymous identities and compelling mysteries. The pragmatic book design enhances the experience of an inventory-like presentation of this work and in doing so, allows us to willingly consider, reconsider and distinguish what is visible and what is represented. In turning the page, we are seduced by sequence, by repetition and the evolving relationships between images and methods of concealment. In the act of searching for what is not visible, we are confronted with a mirror, one that poignantly reflects and haunts our own memories, resonating in the lost passage of time.

—Tom Claxton

All images courtesy MACK. © Linda Fregni Nagler