Girl from Meriden, Connecticut
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What it is:
Cabinet card measuring 4.25 x 6.5 inches.
What I know about it:
Photographer is Haley & Akers of Meriden, Connecticut. Otherwise undated and unidentified.
One of the blogs I follow is by a photographer named Kirsty who is working on several projects, one of which is a book documenting the prevalence of the color pink among girls in the UK. In her latest post she discusses some criticism of her work in progress, including the admonition that her work should not be so obviously cute. I was really taken aback by this criticism for two reasons. First of all, to my mind, none of the photos she’s posted have been overly or falsely sweet. (Perhaps the criticism stemmed from some I haven’t seen?) They are attractive and engaging and, if not entirely neutral, at least not crushingly biased. Second, how is she expected to take non-cute photos of cute subject matter? She’s taking pictures of girls and their love of the color pink, after all! How can that not be cute, unless she editorializes with a dour, cynical perspective, which to my mind would be just as obvious? My heart went out to Kirsty as she faces this challenge, and I found myself questioning, if not outright disagreeing with, the advice. In a larger sense, her post made me think about how we look at children, particularly as we document them in portraits. There is, I believe, something inherently cute about children, and I think we as humans are programmed by evolution to feel that way so that the species has an intrinsic motivation to protect and care for its young. For instance, look at the girl above. She isn’t striking a coquettish pose or holding a doll, she’s just standing there. Her attire, though pretty and feminine, is not extraordinary, and not so different, aside from the hemline, from what an older woman might wear. Yet this picture of her is cute in a way that a similar picture of an adult would not be. Even, for example, the grim photos of child laborers by Lewis Hine rely on the inherent cuteness of children for their potency. I don’t have any answers or advice for Kirsty (not that she asked me, of course), but I am looking forward to following how she chooses to incorporate these ideas into her work, and I thought I would present this topic for others to chew on, if they wish.