American Treasures of the Library of Congress: Memory, Exhibit Object Focus

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Nursemaid and Child

Nursemaid with her charge
[Nursemaid with her charge]
Sixth-plate ambrotype,
hand-tinted, ca. 1855
Prints & Photographs Division

Although household slaves held higher status than field hands, this partial portrait of a nursemaid reveals that higher status was relative. The photographer chose to obscure the nursemaid's face, directing our attention to the white child as the main subject of this ambrotype--heightening the infant's prominence by hand-coloring the face and dress. By the late-1850s, the glass ambrotype had replaced the silver-coated copper plate of the daguerreotype for popular photographic portraiture, because it was less expensive and faster to produce.

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