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Children and Childhood

In the foreground, a man and a woman carry a child as they move to the left of the page. The man carries the child's body, while the woman holds the childs head. The man's face is turned towards the left, while the woman's head is bowed toward the child. The man and woman are dressed in dark clothes, while the child is shown in white. The child's arm hangs limp. A crowd of children is gathered in the background, looking at the three main figures.
This photograph depicts a young girl standing in a grassy field wearing a stained and dirty dress.

This portfolio offers a wide range of images and objects that depict children. In some of the works, children are accompanied by mothers and fathers, while in others they are shown playing with other children. Still others show children as personifications of innocence. Some of the works are snapshots, while others are professional photographs or imaginative renderings, all bringing up questions about presence and identity. From discussions of race and social standing to those of innocence and the absence of fault, the huge variety of works allows for diverse discussions about the depictions of children and childhood over space and time.

‘Look Closer’ Work:

Baldwin Lee, Untitled, Vicksburg, MS, 1983
UMMA 1992/1.137

Work Description

The contemporary photographer, Baldwin Lee, was born in Brooklyn in 1951 and currently is a Professor of Art at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. This photograph is part of a series entitled “Black Americans in the South” and chronicles his first encounters with Southern Blacks after the New Yorker moved to Knoxville in 1982. This early photograph from the six-year series shows a man and his son outside their home. What is unique about his images is that, despite his first reaction to the living conditions of Southern Blacks, he does not depict them only as stressed by their economic status. Though their sometimes dilapidated environment is visible in the photographs, the subjects are portrayed as charismatic individuals rather than stereotyped victims.

Related Article

Tina M. Campt, “Family Matters: Diaspora, Difference, and the Visual Archive,” Social Text 98, vol. 27, no. 1, Spring 2009, p. 83-114. (Focus on p. 83-97)

Article Discussion Questions

With the knowledge of Baldwin Lee’s place as an outsider, both geographically and racially, when he took these images, what new questions are raised when you consider Campt’s point that the image gains new meaning once the surrounding circumstances are known?

Though Campt is specifically discussing images of the African diaspora in Europe, how might you go about considering Lee’s photograph with her main themes in mind?

In Campt’s account, what function can family portraits take on other than mere documentation?

Further Reading

Teresa Annas, “Badlwin Lee’s unblinking views of the South,” Hampton Roads, June 26, 2012 (

John B. Kirby, “An Uncertain Context: American and Black Americans in the Twentieth Century,” The Journal of Southern History, vol 46, no. 4 (Nov., 1980), p. 571-586.


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Aging — by (February 13 2017 @ 12:10 pm)
Boyhood — by (February 13 2017 @ 12:10 pm)
Childhood — by (February 13 2017 @ 12:10 pm)
Children — by (February 13 2017 @ 12:10 pm)
Comparative — by (February 13 2017 @ 12:10 pm)
Girlhood — by (February 13 2017 @ 12:10 pm)
Identity — by (February 13 2017 @ 12:10 pm)
Stages of life — by (February 13 2017 @ 12:10 pm)
Youth — by (February 13 2017 @ 12:10 pm)
Youths — by (February 13 2017 @ 12:10 pm)

Part of 7 Learning Collections

American Orientalist art at the turn of the 20th century
<p>America Encounters Asia in Art</p>

American Orientalist art at the turn of the 20th century
<p>America Encounters Asia in Art</p>

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Creative Commons by-nc-sa (University of Michigan Museum of Art)

Last Updated

January 11, 2019 10:17 a.m.


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