Why Do Victorian-era Portraits Have Creepy Blanketed Figures?

Old things can be really creepy, but not just because they're old. Dark, sheeted figures eerily popping up in the background of antique photographs? Yeah, that's objectively spooky. But back in the day, people did what had to be done... all in the name of saving a few bucks.


Portraiture has always been in vogue, albeit not always super convenient. Photography in the Victorian era, the mid- to late 1800s, took minutes to take a single photo, which made photographing squirmy children especially difficult. The parents stepped in to solve the problem (like usual). Parents would stand behind the children to sneakily hold them still. Some would even go to such lengths as drugging the children to sedate them a bit, but that's a can of worms we're not ready to dive into at the moment.

I Don't Give A Sheet

That doesn't quite explain why parents felt the need to cloak themselves in nightmare fuel. Now consider photo packages. Not unlike modern photo policies, Victorian age photography studios had a fixed rate per person. Because of this, parents, relatives, or even photography studio employees would disguise themselves with blankets or drapes in photos as to not be visible and not jack up the cost of the session. Another method to make the adult disappear from the photo was to physically scratch out their face during photo development, leaving creepy faceless bodies or body-less hands holding the child. Thank goodness for fast, modern shutter speeds.

Why 1800s Portrait Photography Features Blanketed Parents

All came down to cost.

Key Facts In This Video

  1. In early photography studios, subjects had to sit for at least half a minute for the photograph to expose. 00:52

  2. In the Victorian era, parents would give children drugs so they would sit still while getting their photo taken. 01:32

  3. Adults would often disguise themselves as drapes or furniture in order to hold infants during Victorian era photography without being seen. 02:25

Written by Joanie Faletto October 15, 2016

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