Reading and Discussion Questions
Anne Higonnet, Pictures of Innocence
1. Higonnet introduces her book by pointing out that pictures of children
generate a lot of anxiety today. Why does she think so? Do you agree with
2. What does she mean by the “Romantic” ideal of childhood?
How does this differ from “Knowing” childhood?
3. “Pictures are a form of ideas, not reality.” (14) Why
does the difference between representation and reality matter so much
to Higonnet? Do you agree with her definition of pictures and her understanding
of what they do (and what they don’t do)? What do you believe about
the relationship between images and behaviors?
4. What basic point is the author making about innocence?
5. List several genres of visual representation that were common among
19th century artists who depicted children. What do they have in common?
How did they advance the ideal of Romantic Childhood?
6. Why is it important that many of the artists who gravitated toward
images of children were women?
7. Why is it important that pictures of children were a commercially
viable art form that appealed to a growing consumer market?
8. Is there a relationship between romanticizing images of children and
9. Did photography accomplish something that painting and illustration
did not? If so, what do you think it was? Compare the recent work of Betsy
Cameron and Anne Geddes to the 19th and early 20th-century artists described
in the book.
10. Higonnet contends that family snapshots are significant forces shaping
childhood and that they are governed by many of the same rules that govern
professional visual representations. What are these rules? Do you agree?
11. Why does Higonnet argue that photography was the form of visual representation
with the capacity to challenge (as well as uphold) Romantic Childhood?
12. Do you think that Lewis Carroll’s pictures of little girls
looked different to 19th-century viewers than they do to you? Why or why
13. How has ethnographic photography changed the picture of childhood?
14. What factors do you think are most responsible for the increasing
sexualization of children in pictures? How do you feel about this development?
Does it have advantages as well as disadvantages? Does it suggest that
children can be powerful as well as vulnerable?
15. Higonnet points out that the paradox of Romantic Childhood is that
“children could only become desirable if they were genuinely believed
to be innocent.” (132) Explain.
16. Higonnet’s chapter on child pornography suggests that a movement
to police picture has turned many parents and policymakers away from “real”
child abuse during the past two decades. Do you agree? What relationship
do you think exists between pictures that sexualize children and the abuse
of children? Explain your thinking.
17. What is Higonnet’s solution to the problem of balancing freedom
of speech against the protection of children? What is yours?
18. What do you think of the cases of parents (like Alice Sims) who were
arrested under child pornography laws for pictures taken of their own
19. What is the significance of Knox v. United States?
20. “The most effective protection of children is law that targets
actions.” (188) Why does Higonnet think so? What do you think?
21. Do you think a new childhood ideal is coming into being? Do Sally
Mann’s pictures point in that direction? If so, how?
22. What does the end of Romantic Childhood have to do with the shifting
borders between public and private?