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Looking at Photographs: New series of talks at the RPS

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Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Summer Portraits and the five romantic images of childhood

I know photographing children in costume is a crime against humanity, but oh well...

Isabel at the Summer Halloween Party

Anne Higonnet on the five archetypal images of childhood.

"Yes, it is really astonishing to see how every single image of childhood to which we still cling at the beginning of the 21st century was invented or perfected in late-18th-century England and was already in place in the popular but unique oil paintings of mid-19th-century Victorian culture. All five types in some way proclaimed the innocence of the child, which meant concentrating on the body paradoxically in order to diminish its corporeality.

The categories are

  • mother with child;

  • child with pet;

  • child dressed up in a fancy costume;

  • angel child;

  • children posing as adults."
The other four categories, yes, but I still don't think anyone has remotely captured the mother and child relationship in a way that corresponds to the physical and mental drudgery (we've all seen the love-laden delight) - either in writing (sorry, but slummy mummy lit doesn't count) or pictures. There's a reason for that.

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