Having been a babysitter and/or nanny for about half of my life now, one of my favorite subjects to photograph is kids. This could be because I hang out with them so much… or it could be because they don’t care what they look like in photographs, they don’t start acting self-conscious in front of the camera and they don’t protest that you’re taking too many photos, as long as you don’t expect them to stand still for too long. I find kids and animals so much easier to photograph than people (unless they are candid shots, I looooove candid shots!) for these very reasons. One of the first photographers that piqued my interest was Jill Greenberg with her portraits of crying kids.
I had taped these photos into my very first sketchbook back in freshman year of high school and still go back to them every now and then. The emotions of a child are just so raw, they don’t hold back, they don’t cover anything up. When they are sad, they cry, when they are happy they laugh. I can’t think of anything more honest than the emotions of a child. Aren’t these photographs beautiful? Sad and heartbreaking, yes, but still beautiful. Here’s an excerpt from the Greenberg’s artist statement:
Nothing is more pure than the anguish of a child. Pictures of children crying capture raw emotion: sputtering rage and profound loss. In many ways we’ve become desensitized to disturbing images. But the honesty of a child’s feelings is undeniable and it draws you in to the photograph. Perhaps because kids experience the kind of powerful emotions that we, as adults, have suppressed in ourselves.
To me, this kind of children photography speaks to the idea of validity of childhood. I think often it’s easy to dismiss the worries and emotions children have because we know that logically there is little foundation to that sadness. We know that the pain of a scrape will pass momentarily or that the toy that can’t be found will soon be forgotten and replaced by another one. And yet, I think it’s also important that sometimes the why does not matter and does not have to make sense. Maybe this lesson could even apply to adulthood. Not being able to explain emotions does not make them any less valid.
Moving on before I get too deep into this :) the reason I came back to Greenberg this time was because of these guys, (I’m coming back to them, as promised):
A YouTube video of a chainsmoking Indonesian toddler inspired me to create this series, “Smoking Kids”. The video highlighted the cultural differences between the east and west, and questioned notions of smoking being a mainly adult activity. Adult smokers are the societal norm, so I wanted to isolate the viewer’s focus upon the issue of smoking itself. I felt that children smoking would have a surreal impact upon the viewer and compel them to truly see the acts of smoking rather than making assumptions about the person doing the act.
And Janssens is right. When you look at these photographs, you don’t jump into conclusions about the kids (maybe their parents…) So, at one point does the kid enter adulthood and at what point does he start becoming responsible for his own actions? Sometimes when you watch kids, you see them imitate. They act like little adults. It’s a long and hazy transition from childhood to adulthood (and sometimes we’ve got parents to document every single hazy step!)
And lastly, that chainsmoking Indonesian toddler? Watch this and prepare to be very disturbed (unless of course, the toddlers in your culture do this too):