Children through the Looking Glass

David MacDougall*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    1 Citation (Scopus)


    In recent decades social scientists have taken a renewed interest in Western conceptions of the child, revealing often contradictory notions of children as either lacking or capable, innocent or knowing, vulnerable or dangerous. The fine-art photograph offers visual anthropology a way to explore these contradictions and shifts in attitude. This essay addresses the question through the changing representations of children in 19th- and 20th-century art photography. Reaching back to the work of Julia Margaret Cameron, it examines images of children by Lewis Hine, Edward Weston, Helen Levitt, Sally Mann, Anthony Goicolea, and the Russian collective, AES + F, arguing that in these photographs the child has increasingly been perceived as mysterious and threatening to adult ideas of sexual and social order. The essay concludes with the case of Jacques-Henri Lartigue, who among all the noted photographers of children was the only one who brought a child’s perspective to the portrayal of childhood experience. If contemporary photographers have persisted in conveying disturbing and idealized notions of childhood, it may require another Lartigue to restore the balance.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)212-236
    Number of pages25
    JournalVisual Anthropology
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 26 May 2020


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