I've seen curators desperately clinging onto photographic work of the past, such as pictorialism, almost to a fault. And I've seen them heavily exploring modern photography. The best thing, for a museum, is to have both. This is important, because it's at museums where a lot of people get exposed to photography as printed matter.
Recently, I visited the Minneapolis Institute of Arts to view their exhibit featuring panoramic phtoographs, and there is clearly a lot of respect for work from the past showing some absolutely exquisite work by Berenice Abbott, Art Sinsabaugh, Josef Sudek, and others, but also lots of more modern iterations from people like Chris Faust and Stuart Klipper. To me it was a wonderful and fresh mix of photographs where old and new coexisted in perfect harmony.
It's very seldom that I visit a museum show of photography without learning a lot about both old and new photographers, and even though I may not like it all, it's always interesting and enlightening.
One modern photographer whose work I'd love to see more of is Jay Maisel, for example. Modern, fresh, recognized, respected, and usually loved by those that have little experience with photography.
Here's a very interesting current show featuring great photographic work from late 19th century to modern day. Some names unknown to me.
I had the pleasure of visiting the Fotografiska Museet in Stockholm in January to see the work of Nick Brandt, a photographer documenting nature.
There was a fantastic exhibit at the same time by Norwegian photographer Margaret M. DeLange
Anton Corbijn has a show there now.
Marcus Bleasdale: Stolen Children