Blind spots Images of the Danish West Indies colony

Masters and servants


1847 - 1919


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Encounters in family albums

After the abolition of slavery in 1848 many Danes and Afro-Caribbean people lived together as employers and employees. Such co-habitation was at its most intimate in the private homes where Afro-Caribbeans were servants to Danish families. Professional photographers were invited in, and in the 1890s amateur home photography grew widespread when Kodak introduced its inexpensive box camera. Children and adults alike posed for photos taken in the refined homes with their exquisitely furnished rooms.

Servants were often included in family photographs. Sometimes with rather reluctant expressions, at other times with beaming faces. Inside the thick family albums they became part of the narratives of Danish families.

Portraits of wet nurses or nannies with children constitute a special category. The pictures give the impression of intimacy between the adults and children. But they say nothing of how the staff might long for their families.

Today the photographs are available online so that descendants of the people in the albums can trace their ancestors.


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Bringing the nanny into the picture

Unknown artist Portrait of Louisa Bauditz and her wet nurse, Charlotte Hodge Daguerreotype, 1847

Pictures such as this testify to intimate relationships between Danish families and their servants. But we know very little about the servants’ lives.

She appears calm, the nanny Charlotte Hodge, as she looks at the camera with her arm around a young Danish girl, Louisa Bauditz. Their picture was taken in 1847, making this one of the very earliest photographs. The technique used was the so-called daguerreotype process, and many thought it nothing less than magical that a sheet of metal covered in a photosensitive emulsion could reproduce images with such precision and detail.

The young girl’s father was a captain and civil servant, and Charlotte Hodge was a domestic servant with the family. She wasn’t enslaved, but whether she was born free, given free or was one of the few who got the opportunity to buy her freedom we do not know. In the mid-1840s the family and Charlotte Hodge travelled to Copenhagen, and the photograph may have been taken there.

The picture testifies to how Danish families chose to include their servants in family photos at this very early stage of the history of photography. It also lets us experience the proximity and intimacy that arose when the girl leaned back towards her nanny, resting her hand on hers. However, it tells us nothing about how Charlotte Hodge saw her own situation – with the family or at the moment when her picture was taken.


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An apothecary as eager amateur photographer

Alfred Paludan-Müller Album with silver gelatin prints Between 1879 and 1904

Alfred Paludan-Müller, who managed the pharmacy at Saint Croix from 1872 to 1904, was an eager photographer. His wife Julie Blom and their daughters Ingeborg and Marie were favourite motifs of his.

Seemingly against their will, he had them pose in starched dresses with open books in front of them or with their fingers resting on a piano.

The family’s servants also posed for the apothecary. In some pictures he photographed them engaged in doing the laundry or scrubbing the floors. At other times they were arranged for group photos or sat for portraits alongside his daughters.

The daughters’ names are almost always listed underneath the pictures, and sometimes the servants and various friends of the family are also identified. However, the names are written in a way that reveals how distinctions were made according to skin colour: for example, two European women are simply captioned as “Mary Moore and Mrs Hvid”, whereas Paludan-Müller often adds racial descriptions such as “negro”, “negress” or “mulatto” underneath the names of Afro-Caribbean sitters. This is why another photograph is captioned “Mrs. Tosch (Negress)”.

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