Hide & Seek: Picturing Childhood at the Nelson-Atkins

Exploring our fascination with childhood as captured throughout photography’s history, Hide & Seek: Picture Childhood will feature 45 works by 42 photographers from The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art collection. Among the works are a stunning mid-19th-century portrait by Lewis Carroll, and contemporary color photographs by Jocelyn Lee, Sage Sohier and Julie Blackmon. They will be on view at the Museum for the first time. The exhibition runs Sept. 26 to Feb. 21, 2010.

Morris Engel“Childhood, as a phase of life distinct from adulthood, is a modern, Western construct,” said Associate Curator of Photography April M. Watson, who co-curated the exhibition with Jane L. Aspinwall, Assistant Curator of Photography. “In many ways, it eludes easy definition. As society changes, the parameters defining childhood have become increasingly mutable. Our aim in selecting these works from the rich holdings in our collection is to explore the inherent complexity of the subject, which falls somewhere between innocence and knowing, nature and nurture, metaphor and fact.”

Watson and Aspinwall have assembled a variety of works by some of the most recognized figures in the history of the medium, including Lewis Carroll, Gertrude Käsebier, Lewis Hine, Helen Levitt, Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Emmet Gowin and Sally Mann. “We wanted to explore a variety of concepts and themes, from romantic notions of innocence as seen in the Pictorialist work of Gertrude Käsebier, to documents of childhood’s harsher, social realities, as seen in the photographs of Lewis Hine and Dorothea Lange,” Aspinwall said. “In selecting contemporary works, we included photographers such as a Sage Sohier and Julie Blackmon, who touch on more current trends, like over-involved parenting and over-scheduled families.”

The significance of education, play and imagination, the relationship between adults and children, and the place of children in the adult world also are considered.

The Photography Collection at the Nelson-Atkins grew from its initial holding of 1,015 prints to a collection of more than 7,000 works with the acquisition in late 2005 of the famed Hallmark Photographic Collection, one of the finest holdings of its kind in the world. The Museum’s photography holdings span the entire range of photography’s history, from 1839 to the present, with a particular strength in American work.

The Nelson-Atkins is located at 45th and Oak Streets, Kansas City, MO. Hours are Wednesday, 10 a.m.–4 p.m.; Thursday/Friday, 10 a.m.–9 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m.; Sunday, Noon–5 p.m. Admission to the Museum is free to everyone.

For Museum information, phone 816.751.1ART (1278) or visit nelson-atkins.org.

Image: Morris Engel, American (1918-2005). Comic Book Stand, New York, ca. 1945. Gelatin silver print, image: 10 1/2 x 13 3/8 inches. Gift of Hallmark Cards, Inc., 2005.27.3953. © Morris Engel.