Museum ethics in the collection, interpretation and display of contemporary photographs of children expressing a bodily awareness
thesisposted on 25.11.2019, 11:30 by Ceciel R. Brouwer
This thesis explores how museums can effectively negotiate the ethical and children’s rights issues involved in the acquisition, interpretation and display of contemporary photographs of children. It does so in consideration of a heightened sensitivity towards child protection that has inspired a struggle for museums in the UK to adopt transparent and confident decision-making processes in their curatorial approaches around such images. This struggle is particularly fraught when photographs of children express a bodily awareness: a marker of the transition from childhood to adulthood.
By advancing an ethically-informed discourse around freedom of speech and the sitter’s agency, the research aims to encourage more resilient and responsible decision-making amongst museums and galleries. Significantly, the thesis develops a language and a framework within which such a dialectic can take place.
The research is interdisciplinary in nature and, building on the new museum ethics discourse, draws on the experiences of museum practitioners in the US, UK and Europe – including curators, directors and educators. Firmly grounded within everyday museum practice, it identifies innovative curatorial strategies that exchange self-censorship for a more socially relevant way of interpreting and exhibiting photographs of children. The thesis advocates approaches that enable children and young people to express their own perspectives on the ways in which they are represented today.
Adopting qualitative research methods, the research relies on interviews and case studies. These include a number of ‘silent’ cases introduced by museum informants that reveal how self-censorship operates through external and internal barriers, and two case studies that embrace curatorial strategies that explore alternative ways forward (at The North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, US and the Fotomuseum in The Hague, The Netherlands).