The orchestrated candid

A monochrome family portrait of a mother and two children. The toddler is sitting on the floor, flipping through a book, while the mom is seated on a chair with a baby restingon her right arm. With her left hand, she is carefully holding the little one, her gaze lost in the baby's presence. Their clothing is unremarkable, not their Sunday best. From the left, sunshine is puring through a window, stroking the mom and the toddler's left side and highlighting the baby's white gown and little face.
Unknown photographer. Gelatin silver print.

Collection of Réka Szentirmay. (front)

This picture is an early forerunner of today’s social media images: a visual proof of bliss, effortlessly performed without even the slightest stink of production. These images are to look like genuine moments captured by a lucky photographer that happened to be at the right spot at the right time. It is an art form, the orchestrated candid: making something convincingly accidental yet perfect is not for the faint-hearted.

This is a beautiful shot without a doubt. And it is at least semi-accidental: directing a baby is impossible and the big sister is also not yet old enough to follow all commands from a photographer. But the rest is heavily controlled. It is a lovely fusion of lights and shadows, a balanced record of maternal achievement. Such harmony does not happen without skillful preparation. One might be born with a sense of good composition but trapping the light like this needs mastery both with the camera in hands and later in the darkroom. (Note the mother’s eyes.) Even the messy backdrop suggests preparedness. So much so that I wonder if it is indeed in someone’s own house or quite possibly a real studio—even if it’s the business of someone on a low budget.

I do love how no one is interested in the photographer. My favourite detail is the baby’s resigned patience, probably envisioning the next breastfeeding session. The mom is consumed by the sight of her youngest child, while the eldest is flipping through a book. I imagine her thinking how she has seen better, but it will do for the near future.

It appears to be a peaceful little community where, at this very moment, everyone is rather satisfied with their lives—or not unhappy at least. Family bliss at its best.

I started to collect vintage photographs with a very specific idea in mind. I was looking for “faceless” women, whatever the reason behind the facelessness might be: technical issues, the male gaze, motherly absorptions in an offspring, etc. This painterly piece is the perfect embodiment of what I’m looking for when it comes to my collection. A nicely timed appearance here.

Tired of looking at my backside? Check out my front!

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