Season Two, Episode Three

Death, Loss, and Nightmares:
Why Photographs of Kids Are So Scary

Transcript coming soon!

Pictures hold the promise of capturing a moment in time — a promise that is especially enticing when the subjects are children, who always seem (to parents at least) to be growing up too fast. In this episode, we consider how images of children were used to capture not just happy memories of childhood moments but the very spirit of children no longer here to make new memories. We’ll move from the 1800s to the 1970s, from photo albums to fairy tales to nightmares, to think about the particular power of the photographed child.

How did portraiture and photography change how adults experienced grief over children’s deaths? Why are photographs of children particularly powerful, sad, or strange? What does photography allow us to capture about children — especially those elements of childhood that we find most unsettling? 

reading list

Doyle, Arthur Conan. The Case for Spirit Photography. George A. Doran, 1923. 

Gross, Kenneth. “The Madness of Puppets.” The Hopkins Review, vol. 2, no. 2, Spring 2009, pp. 182-205.    

Meier, Allison C. “How Victorians Mourned Love Ones through Hair Jewelry.” Art and Object, March 10, 2020. 

Moon, Sarah, and Charles Perrault. Little Red Riding Hood. Creative Editions, 2002. 

Mumler, William. The personal experiences of William H. Mumler in spirit-photography. Colby and Rich, 1875.  

Riggs, Ransom. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Quirk Books, 2013. 

Sánchez-Eppler, Karen. “Then when we clutch hardest: On the death of a child and the replication of an image.” Sentimental men: Masculinity and the politics of affect in American culture, ed. Mary Chapman and Glenn Hendler, University Press of California, 1999, pp. 64-85. 

Sconce, Jeffrey. Haunted Media: Electronic Presence from Telegraphy to TelevisionDuke University Press, 2000. 

Scott, Kate. “Phantoms and Frauds: The History of Spirit Photography.” OUPblog, Oxford University Press, October 29, 2013.  

Segel, Harold B. Pinocchio’s Progeny: Puppets, Marionettes, Automatons and Robots in Modernist and Avant-Garde Drama. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995. 

Tress, Arthur. The Dream Collector. Text by John Minahan. Westover, 1972. 

The Children’s Table enjoys the support of: