The Lux Effect: Real or Imaginary by Colin Pantall
MA Documentary Photography Dissertation Tutor: Celia Mitchell Course Leader: Dr Ian Walker June 8th 2006 13,950 words
The Lux Effect: Real or Imaginary?
List of Figures
Introduction: Real or Imaginary? - page 1 Chapter 1: The Landscape of the Romantic Child page 5 Chapter 2: Clothing the Innocent Child - page 19 Chapter 3: The Look of the Knowing Child - page 35 Chapter 4: Constructed Childhoods - page 52 Conclusion: Real and Imaginary - page 76
Figures Introduction Figure 1: Lux, L. 2001. The Rose Garden In: Lux, L. 2004. Loretta Lux. New York: Aperture. Chapter 1 Figure 2: Reynolds, Sir Joshua. 1788. The Age of Innocence In: Postle, M. 2005. Pictures of Innocence. Bath: Holbourne Museum. Figure 3: Cotes, Francis. 1768. Lewis Cage ( Young Cricketer) In: Postle, M. 2005. Pictures of Innocence. Bath: Holbourne Museum. Figure 4: Dijkstra, R. 1992. Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, USA. June 24,1992. In: Ehlers, C. 2003. Beach Portraits. La Salle Bank: Chicago. Figure 5: Mann, S. 1988. The Alligatorâ€™s Approach. In: Mann, S. 1992. Immediate Family. Aperture: New York. Chapter 2 Figure 6: Artist Unknown. 1979. Propaganda image of Girl. [WWW] http://www.calvin.edu/academic/cas/gpa/images/30ddr/30ddr-8.jpg. (24 May 2006) Figure 7: Van Dyck, A. 1635. George Villiers, Second Duke of Buckingham and Lord Francis Villiers. In: Higonnet, A. 1998. Pictures of Innocence. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd. Figure 8: Dodgson, C. c 1859. The Beggar Maid. In: Cohen, M. 1999. Reflections in a Looking Glass: A Centennial Celebration of Lewis Carroll, Photographer. New York: Aperture. Chapter 3 Figure 9: Mann, S. 1989. The New Mothers. In: Mann, S. 1992. Immediate Family. New York. Aperture.
Figure 10: Riis, J. c1880s. Street Arabs in Sleeping Quarters. In: Riis J. 1890. How the Other Half Lives: Studies among the Tenements of New York. New York: Charles Scribnerâ€™s and Sons. Figure 11: Lange, D. Migrant Mother. In: Clarke, G. 1997. The Photograph. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 152. Figure 12: Barnado Photographic Archive, Ilford. c. 1876. Florence and Eliza Holder, c. 1876. In: Mavor, C. 1996. Pleasures Taken: Performances of Sexuality and Loss in Victorian Photographs. London: I.B Tauris. p. 40. Figure 13: Barnado Photographic Archive, Ilford. c.1876. Florence Holder, c. 1876. In: Mavor, C. 1996. Pleasures Taken: Performances of Sexuality and Loss in Victorian Photographs. London: I.B Tauris. p.41 Chapter 4 Figure 14: John Everett Millais. 1880. Cherry Ripe. In: Mavor, C. 1996. Pleasures Taken: Performances of Sexuality and Loss in Victorian Photographs. London: I.B Tauris. p. 15. Figure 15: Richard Prince. 1983. By Richard Prince, A Photograph of Brooke Shields by Garry Gross. In: Richard Prince. Lisa Phillips. 1992. New York. Harry n. Abrams, Inc. Figure 16: Dodgson, C.L.. 1864. Reverend Thomas Childe Barker and his daughter, May. In: Cohen, M. 1999. Reflections in a Looking Glass: A Centennial Celebration of Lewis Carroll, Photographer. New York: Aperture. p.47. Figure 17: Ewald, W/Allen Shepherd. 1975-1982.. I dreamt I killed my best friend, Ricky Dixon. In: Ewald, W. 2000. Secret Games: Collaborative Works with Children, 1969 - 1999. London: Thames and Hudson. p.39. Conclusion Figure 18: Johan, S. 2001. Untitled 35. In: From Room To Play. Santa Fe. Twin Palms, 2003.
Introduction - Real or Imaginary? The Rose Garden (figure 1) is a typical Loretta Lux picture and the photographerâ€™s personal favourite. A four-year-old English girl called Emily stands on a path in a garden of pale pink roses. The garden is walled, with two
Figure 1: The Rose Garden
open gateways on either side of the girl. Above the garden, in the top half of the picture is a lightly overcast sky of grey-bottomed clouds. The girl stands in the centre of this garden and we see all of her from her ankles up. She stands with her right leg in front of her left. Her hands are held behind her back and she looks slightly up and to the left of the viewer with an unfocussed, but thoughtful, expression. Her cheeks are freckled and rounded, her lips cherubic. At first glance, everything seems beautiful, so beautiful that the work at times seems â€œstrangely unmoored in place or timeâ€? (Aletti, 2004).
Look closer and signs of imperfection in the picture appear. Starting with the landscape, the rose bushes are not verdant and flourishing, but are ground-covering (except by the gateways) and seem almost strangled by their own overgrowth. At the edges of the path the wildness is halfheartedly tamed. Here attempts at trimming have been made and flattened rose tendrils reach out over a thin-looking soil. The flowers are not pristine either, but rather wilting, their petals slightly frayed and tattered, the leaves a sickly pale green that contrasts with the emerald of the girlâ€™s dress. Some of the briars spill over onto the pathway which is uneven and still wet from the rain. All of these landscape elements have been digitally added to the picture
by Lux, who says she stills thinks as a painter, but with a mouse, keyboard and screen as her tools instead of brushes, palette and canvas (Salter, 2004).
The otherworldly nature of The Rose Garden is accentuated by the clothes the girl is wearing. Lux selects the clothes her models wear, often dressing them in outfits from her own youth (Aletti, 2004). Emily wears a short, emerald green skirt with an A-shaped pleat running down its middle. This joins at a high waistband that is fastened with an over-sized gold buckle. She also wears a short-sleeved, pink shirt with a waved, green trim that matches her dress. Down the centre of the shirt is a floral, art-noveau design that continues to the rounded collar that is buttoned to the top of her neck. The clothes seem new and are flat from ironing, but at the edges creases and crumples appear - where the shirt tucks into the skirt, where the collar sits against the neck, where the arms slide behind the back.
Emily, though young and a picture of health, is not flawless. There is a bruise on her leg, she has pale shadows under her eyes and her auburn hair is unkempt and tousled, a stray strand falling across her eyes and nose. There is also an asymmetry to her pose - her stance is both casual and awkward, her legs join up too sweetly, the head tilts too gently and the proportions all
seem the tiniest touch out of kilter. Similarly with the gaze. She looks out of the picture with a look of intention that is that has a cold knowingness about it. Her look is not that of a child, but rather one of an adult. Yet at the same time, it is unfocussed as though she is attending to something that only she, or children as a breed apart, can see. In true phenomenological fashion she is looking at something and nothing simultaneously.
The Rose Garden is an immensely contradictory picture. It has what Vince Aletti calls “the sublime sheen of reality perfected, telling imperfection and all” (Aletti, 2004) .The landscape is perfect, but flawed, the clothes new but old. The girl is perfect, but somehow blemished and her look and stance mark her both as an adult and a child. Repeatedly in this picture, the idealised world of the imaginary Innocent Child is contrasted with the blemished real world of the Knowing Child. These contrasts are what give Lux’s photography the power to elicit such contradictory responses from viewers. They reference a wide range of both traditional and contemporary western portrayals of childhood beauty in painting, photography and illustration and create an ambiguity that make her images readable in a multitude of opposing ways. So while Lux describes her pictures as “ imaginary portraits” ( Stoll, 2004), she also says she uses children as her
subject because they are “very genuine” ( Salter, 2004). Are her children “as hollow and idealized as automatons” ( Aletti, 2004) or are they “fixed in a childhood as real as any, as real as it gets”? (Stoll, 2004). Is the work of Loretta Lux real or imaginary? This is the question this dissertation will seek to answer.
Chapter 1: The Landscape of the Romantic Child
Loretta Lux began working with photography in 1999, while studying at Munich’s Akademie der Bildenden Künste. Feeling unable to compete in the historical arena of classical painting where painters like Velasquez or Caspar David Friedrich overwhelmed her burgeoning but, in her eyes, modest talents, Lux decided to “...approach painting through photography” and establish a niche of her own as an artist who uses photography (Pantall, 2005). Freed from another of her artistic phobias - the messiness of painting - Lux could focus on her art through the new, clean and relatively uncluttered medium of digital photography
Lux had always been influenced by art as a child when works like Velasquez’s Margarita, Infanta Teresa and Prince Baltasar Dressed as a Hunter or Runge’s Aulfendorf children hung on the walls of her home. “Maybe they are the reason I became an artist,” she says (Pantall, 2005).
In addition to being a recurrent theme in Lux’s personal history, art and its history has had a major influence on the representation of childhood in photography. This is evident in Lux’s use of landscape, dress, pose and
expression, with The Rose Garden being a prime example of a meeting point for contemporary and historical representations of children.
Portrayals of the child in painting developed beyond representations of the Christ-child and related religious or classical imagery with the development of the cult of childhood innocence in the 18th century. This development has been traced back to social and economic changes in the 17th century that led to children becoming more central figures in family life (Aries, 1996). These changes led to the creation of early versions of the modern ‘nuclear family’ (Stone, 1990) in which the child was transformed from a mini-adult that should be cajoled to the path of adult righteousness to an object of parental adoration and love. Exactly when these changes happened is contested (Higonnet, 1998), though there is no doubt that this social transformation did occur and led to transformations in attitudes to child-rearing, education and play (Postle, 2005). These transformations were in turn represented in the world of art by British painters such as Sir Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Gainsborough and Francis Cotes. In the 18th century, these artists began to use art historical elements to create a new vision of childhood - what Anne Higonnet calls ‘Romantic Childhood’ According to Higonnet, the Romantic Child is has no class, gender or thoughts. The
Romantic Child is “Socially, sexually and psychically innnocent” (Higonnet, 1998 p.24).
The Age of Innocence (dated to 1788) by Sir Joshua Reynolds (figure 2) is one of the paintings most commonly referenced as an example of this ‘Romantic Childhood’.
Figure 2: The Age of Innocence The Age of Innocence portrays a young girl, Offy, in a white dress sitting in profile to the viewer. The landscape (which I will focus on in this chapter) looms behind her, allowing the child to gain
prominence, yet at the same time seem “reassuringly small” (Higonnet, 1998 p.15). The landscape emphasises the girl’s childhood and innocence. She may be the major figure in the painting, yet at the same time the lack of detail in the background, the undifferentiated, almost impressionistic trees and foliage, envelop and surround her. To the left of the viewer the trunk of a silver birch reaches up, its branches overhanging and almost merging with her ribboned hair. In the background stand more distant trees on a gentle slope, above which stands a cloud-dappled blue sky.
Offy is alone in a world of which she is not really part, a world that is both threatening and somehow alien, a world that, given infant mortality rates of the time, Higonnet believes is redolent with death (Higonnet, 1998 p.29). In keeping with Rousseau’s ideas of childhood freedom, the girl is protected from the harmful experience of the adult world by her childlike innocence (Steward, 1995). So the Romantic Child may be a break from previous incarnations of childhood - the Christ-Child in particular - yet at the same time it shares in their allusions to sacrifice and death (Higonnet, 1998 p.30).
The landscape is much more striking in The Rose Garden. As described earlier, it is clearly defined and the use of a medium wide-angle setting (Lux photographs using a Leica Digilux with a 28-90mm lens) for the garden makes it recede into the background. With Emily shot from a low angle at a longer focal length, she seems to dominate the landscape. Unlike Offy, Emily rises above and, with her feet out of frame, is partially detached from her environment. While Offy is surrounded by the harshness of life and not in control of the world she is already part of, Emily has an independence and control over her environment. As a child, she exists in her imaginary childhood world, though at some point she will have to turn around and follow the path that she is implicitly already on. Emily is also given a choice as to her future, while Offy is not. Instead, Offy is already part of a dark and foreboding world in which innocence is only a temporary defence against the inevitable corruption of adulthood (Steward, 1995). The Rose Garden, in contrast, offers options. Emily can choose when to join the world behind her, which gateway to take, and though there are symbols of imperfection and decay, The Rose Garden offers a much brighter world than that of The Age of Innocence.
These are two very different views of childhood. Offy may be innocent, but
she exists in an adult world. She does not understand this world, cannot see this world (as an adult would) and has no control over it. And this is where her innocence comes from - an innocence of corruption, death and, by implication, her own mortality. Innocence for Reynolds, as it was for Jacques Rousseau (Steward, 1995) or indeed Eve in the Garden of Eden, is a bubble of unknowingness. Emily, by contrast, does not live in a bubble, but has her own (imaginary or real?) world - a world that is separate from that of the adult - and even that of other children. She is unknowing of the adult world, but why shouldn’t she be? She is not part of the adult world, just as adults (who are equally unknowing of Offy’s world of childhood innocence) are not part of the child’s world. Lux has created a democracy of ignorance. And in contrast to Offy, Emily controls the choices she has to make to join the adult world. Offy can be seized at any time by her surroundings, Emily cannot. It is a supremely individualistic view of childhood that conforms to Aletti’s view of Lux’s children as independent “creatures” who “suffer alone” (Aletti, 2004). It is also a very democratic view in which the life, mind and world of a child is put on an equal footing with that of the adult.
Lewis Cage, (‘The Young Cricketer’) by Francis Cotes (figure 3) shares more similarities to Lux’s use of landscape. Painted in 1768, it shows a young boy
standing on an illuminated cricket wicket. A ball lies in front of improvised bails, while the boy stands with his left foot facing forward, the sock slightly unrolled. His left hand is on his hip, his right hand holds a elegantly curved cricket bat. The boy is set in a rural landscape , all the better for the trend towards “...the evocation of sensibility” (Postle, 2005) and the low viewpoint and full framing of the boy give him “... a heroic quality” (Postle, 2005 p.48).
Figure 3: Lewis Cage (‘The Young Cricketer’)
The boy’s firm placing in a natural environment was influenced by the publication of Rousseau’s Emile in 1763 (Postle, 2005). In this book, Rousseau “...rejected conventional academic learning in favour of a simple, outdoor upbringing” (Postle, 2005 p.48). So we see Lewis Cage standing on his light-cast wicket. Like the girl in The Rose Garden, he is in control of the environment that surrounds him. But that environment is limited to the wicket on which he stands - a wicket that symbolises childhood. He is detached from the adult world by a large cast of shadow - symbolising adolescence perhaps - and the world beyond is natural and, compared to the landscape in The Age of Innocence, welcoming - part of a romanticised trend to portray the English countryside as “an innocent, idyllic environment in which to grow up” (Steward, 1995). There are trees, meadow and a bright blue sky dotted with clouds lit up by the setting sun. Lewis Cage has control over his world and, like Emily’s, it is one separated from that of the adult world. The difference is that though Cage is separated from the adult world, he is also part of it - his is not an imaginary world, but a corner of adulthood over which he has control. He knows what he will join and what the future will hold. It is all there in the landscape behind him and once he has manouevred through the darkness of adolescence, he will be part of it. He even knows that the future is bright. In the right hand corner a pathway leads
over a hill to a horizon filled with golden light.
It’s a supremely optimistic picture and one that is closer in its use of landscape to Lux than Reynolds. It also shares commonalities with contemporary work of a gloomier nature, in particular Rineke Dijkstra’s Beach Portraits. In her Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, USA June 24 1992 (figure 4), a girl in an apricot bikini stands awkwardly on a South Carolina Beach against a drab grey background of beach, sea and sky. As in The Young Cricketer, the foreground is lit. The young woman has her own territory and stands on her little patch of sand. Dijkstra photographs the girl with sympathy, typical of work that Mary Warner Marien calls “..lush, informative and loving” (Marien, 2002 p.477). However, despite this sympathetic portrayal, Dijkstra believes “...it is essential to understand that everybody is alone” (Grundberg, 1997) - not because people are lonely, but in the sense that everybody is unique, a one-off. An outsider cannot fully “crawl under somebody else’s skin” (Grundberg, 1997). And that somebody else might not be able to crawl fully under their own skin, to fully be herself/himself. So, unlike the confident pre-pubescent Lewis Cage, the girl in the apricot bikini is uncertain of where she is and who she is. Half adult, half child, she exists in the adolescent zone of darkness Cotes so
perceptively painted behind his five-year-old boy. In her uncertain adolescence, the future is a series of stratas of greyness,
Figure 4: Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, USA June 24 1992 from the beach to the sea and, punctuated only by the turbulence of rolling waves, a sky of overwhelming greyness (this dark
background was accidentally created by Dijkstraâ€™s miscalculations with the Strobe (Dijkstra, 2003)). Time has been stretched to fit the weltanschaung of the young adolescent. The possibilities that exist in the childhood world of The Rose Garden have been stripped bare by the insularity and isolation of adolescence. But at the same time the Hilton Head landscape is the landscape that potentially lies outside The Rose Garden, when the red-headed girl advances beyond her tender years and possibilities might recede into drudgery, routine and uncertainty. The girl in the apricot bikini suffers alone just as (as Aletti believes) Emily does. The only difference is the age and world of which they are part.
Perhaps the photographer that Lux most resembles in her use of landscape is Sally Mann. In Immediate Family, Mann poses her children repeatedly against Mannâ€™s supremely lyrical and arcadian vision of the landscape of Americaâ€™s Deep South.
In her foreward to Immediate Family, Mann writes about the timelessness of her home in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, of a landscape that is unchanged from that captured on a 19th-century glass-plate negative Mann found (Mann, 1992). Majestic and eternal, the landscape for Mann was a foil
against which her imagination could run free. As a child, she ran naked, a feral being who became “...an Indian, a cliff-dweller, a green spirit” (Mann, 1992.) in the 30 acres of forest and mountain that surrounded her childhood, and adult, home. For Mann, childhood is impermanent, but contained within that impermanence are the “vexing opportunities” of a child’s future life.
This is similar to the view of Lux as portrayed in The Rose Garden where Emily lives in her own world, yet the future of adulthood is ripe with possibility. In The Alligator’s Approach (figure 5), Virginia sits against a sun-lounger on hardwood decking. Behind her a forested cliff-side rises above a narrow lake. On the shores of a lake sits a plastic alligator, the trail of its approach marked in the waters behind. The layered complexity of The Alligator’s Approach points to what Higonnet means when she says “Mann’s work is not easy to look at” (Higonnet, 1998 p.203).
If The Rose Garden presents a world contained by walls, The Alligator’s Approach shows a world enclosed by the natural environment of Virginia’s home - cliffs, water and trees. This environment has become her playground, a place where the child is free to be themself, where the surroundings are defined by the child and not vice-versa, a perspective that has roots in
Mann’s own childhood in the same surroundings. “I don’t remember much about my childhood basically because it was so ordinary,” says Mann (Woolcock, 1992). “It just went away, it happened, it passed. But there’s a quality of living in the country, this wild, naked freedom that I had as a child that I think they had at least for the period of time that I photographed them.” As in Lux’s work, this is not a unwavering idyllic environment such as Francis Cotes painted. Within the freedom presented by the sumptuous landscape comes something darker - the fact that “childhood can be painful” (Woolcock, 1992), a feeling mirrored by Lux who believes that
Figure 5: The Alligator’s Approach
while children are beautiful, childhood isn’t (Pantall, 2005). The darkness in Mann’s portrait is shown in the threat of the alligator that is approaching. And as it approaches, Virgina sleeps on, unaware of the danger that lies beneath the deck. Here the alligator is just a toy, but it also hints at what lies beyond childhood, as the gates do in The Rose Garden or the shadows in The Age of Innocence, when the threat will be something more real than that of a plastic alligator, when life and the landscape might turn and one’s being become as bleak as that presented in Dijkstra’s Hilton Head portrait. Real or Imaginary, beautiful or bleak, like Lux, the use of landscape in Mann’s work is deliberately contradictory - a theme that Lux continues to pursue in her use of pose and gaze to suggest both innocence and knowingness in her subjects.
Chapter 2: Clothing the Innocent Child
In the previous chapter, we saw how landscape is used to create an imaginary world of childhood, as well as point towards the adult world that lies beyond. The selection of clothes worn by her subjects is another means by which the dichotomies between child and adult, innocent and knowing, real and imaginary are reinforced by Loretta Lux.
There is nothing accidental about the clothes Lux selects for her models. As noted previously, she sometimes dresses them in clothes she wore as a child (Aletti, 2004) in the former East Germany. More frequently, she dresses them in clothes that she has bought at markets or vintage clothes shops (Pantall, 2005) in Germany and other parts of Europe. The clothes tend to be cheap, of a simple cut with bright patterns and bold colours. They never have pictures, logos or brand names on. Indeed, Lux says she could never photograph a child who was wearing branded clothes (Pantall, 2005).
Dressing them in labelled clothes would firmly put them into a particular time or era and bring with it consumer connotations that Lux wants to avoid.
The clothes Lux uses are best defined by what they are not. They are not redolent of the Romantic child or the Innocent child, they are not cute or kitsch, they are not adult and they are not ‘dressing-up’ clothes. They are not especially functional clothes, nor are they expressly decorative. Instead, they are vintage clothes that are neither defined by their expense nor form part of either a class or national consciousness. They are clothes that never quite wormed their way into the affections of either parents or child.
Loretta Lux chooses clothes that deliberately evoke the otherworldliness of her own childhood. She was brought up under the constraints of East German communism, where consumer choice was strictly limited. As she grew up, Lux became aware of the limitations of this system, and how everything around her seemed to lag behind the outside world. “I began to realise I was trapped in the DDR when I was 10 or 11,” she says. “We did see films where more desirable places were shown, like France and Italy, or West Germany, but it all seemed out of reach” (Pantall, 2006). The 1970s in Dresden felt like the 1950s in Hamburg, and the clothes she wore as a
child mirrored this experience (Pantall, 2005).
So the clothes Lux chooses for her children are a costume, a costume that evokes both the consumer vacuum and an associated timelessness of Eastern Europe under Communism, and the attitude towards childhood that existed in the DDR in the 1970s, during Lux’s own childhood. In essence, the East German child was valued by the state not as a child, but as a potential adult. Childhood in East Germany, says Lux, was about growing up to become “workers and LPG-farmers and provide for the future of their communist homeland” (Pantall, 2006). To this end, child care was used as a means to allow the mother to return to work rather than something to educate the child, “In contrast to West Germany, where the increase in public day care in the 1970s was motivated by a desire to educate pre-school children, public day care in East Germany aimed particularly at serving the needs of working mothers” (Kreyenfeld and Karsten, 2000). Similarly, the well-documented use of children as informers against potential dissidents shows how children were employed to serve the state (Funder, 2004). The child was a burden on the parent (the mother in particular) and the state until such a time as it could serve the state. Propaganda images (figure 6)
Figure 6: Propaganda Image celebrating 30 years of the German Democratic Republic
reinforce this idea as do Young Pioneer Songs such as ‘Mother Goes To Work In The Morning’ and the pledge children took upon subsequently joining the Thalmann Pioneers. Thalmann Pioneers would promise to “defend our workers' and farmers' state, which is a firm part of the socialist community of nations”,”prepare for life and work in socialist society” and be “friends of the Soviet Union and protect peace while hating the warmongers” (Bytwerk, 1998). These propaganda images and songs also hint at why Lux’s models strike such independent and at times lonely figures. It’s a view confirmed by Lux. "I deeply resent the fact of having
grown up there," she says. "Being forced to pretend to be a little Communist was demeaning” (Salter, 2005).
In Lux’s work, “the sartorial elegance of her sitters owes something to the 1970s” (Fletcher, 2005). More specifically, in The Rose Garden, the starched formality of Emily’s shirt, its flesh-coloured fabric and ornate design running down the front typical of very conservative, adult dress are the costume of the old East Germany. The skirt is an attractive, but very chemical green, its harsh tones matching the stiff fabric of the synthetic skirt.
However, there are also nods to childhood in the clothes Emily wears. Her tightly buttoned shirt comes complete with short sleeves that signify childhood. Her skirt is short, but loose and flared in a way that is childlike and sexless and beneath it her legs stretch out, the right in front of the other. The pose is very considered, like that of a model, and with her hands clasped behind her back and her head tilted slightly to one side, the effect is of a very sober and thoughtful child - a child existing in an unchildlike shell, conforming to the communist vision of childhood where the child was simply a repository for a future member of the state-serving proletariat.
This clash between portraying the adult and child simultaneously in her pictures is another example of Luxâ€™s effective exploitation of a view of childhood that oscillates between opposing views of childhood - that of the adult and that of the child (as remembered by Lux). However, this use of mixed messages to deliver sophisticated, though opposing, messages can be seen in the work of other photographers and artists, and so can the use of costume and clothing from an earlier age.
Before the advent of the Romantic Child, children were seen as mini-adults (Heywood, 2001). Before the mid 18th century, children were portrayed as adults in paintings and were dressed accordingly. In George Villiers, Second Duke of Buckingham and Lord Francis Villiers (figure 7), the young George and Francis are dressed as wealthy adults, their poses signifying young confidence and continuity of the power and wealth enjoyed by the family line (Higonnet, 1996 p. 17). The child is not distinguished from the adult world by dress.Instead, their clothing defines them as part of the adult world, albeit a marginalised part.
Figure 7: George Villiers, Second Duke of Buckingham and Lord Francis Villiers
Even with the advent of the Romantic Child, dress was still adult in nature. Lewis Cage, who was five years old when his portrait was painted, is wearing green trousers and a green waistcoat over a white shirt and white stockings (see figure 3). On his feet he wears elegant black buckled shoes. Cotes “borrows poses from Van Dyck” ( Postle, 2005 p.48) to give his child a heroic feel, but then contrasts this with the casual nature of his unbuttoned waistcoat and unrolled stockings. The boy’s dress is made to look natural
and spontaneous in keeping with his interest in cricket and the healthy outdoors, but in all other ways the boy is dressed as an adult. His body is portrayed as that of an adult in pose - his left foot is held forward, almost resting on the ball, his right hand is holding the very long and very elegant cricket bat, while his left is firmly fixed to his hip as he looks intently into the distance - where the cricket ball would be coming from if it weren’t at his feet. No puppy fat adorns his youthful frame and his trousers and stockings cling to his muscular legs in a manner that hints at a strength and power beyond his five years. He is a boy who is poised for action, who is ready to take on the world and all its challenges, a point affirmed by the parts of his body that Cotes has emphasised in the picture - his feet legs, hips and hands, which almost seem to burst out of their dress such is the latent energy Cotes instils in the boy. The romantic boy is one who, in his free and natural state is given a superiority over the adult man (Heywood, 2001 p.24). He is innocent, with the emphasis on an innocence uncorrupted by “prejudices, authority... all the social institutions in which we find ourselves submerged,” at an age where “..everything is good as it leaves the hands of the author, everything degenerates in the hands of man” (Rousseau, 1993).
Reynolds portrays Offy, the great-niece who was his model for The Age of
Innocence, differently (figure 2). While Lewis Cage is made muscular and heroic by Cotes’ pose, Offy, as Higonnet notes, is diminished (Higonnet, 1998). She has soft cheeks and chubby arms, pudgy fingers that rest on an equally podgy hand. She wears a flowing white dress that is loose and flowing. It drifts over her body passively, concealing her “adult erogenous zones” (Higonnet, 1998 p.15). Even her feet are a passive part of nature, “...as the picture insists by pointing her tiny toes right at us” (Higonnet, 1998 p.15).
The difference in dress is not due to age. Lewis Cage was 5 when he was painted by Cotes (Postle, 2005), Offy was almost 6 (Higonnet, 1998). However, from the way they are portrayed, Lewis could be anywhere up to 10 or 11 and Offy seems barely out of babyhood. One possibility is the difference in representations of girls compared to boys in portraiture. Boys were expected to become men faster, while girls remained girls - pure, innocent and malleable - for much longer (Higonnet, 1998). Here there is a different idea of innocence at work, one of sexual innocence.
In The Age of Innocence, sexual innocence is portrayed through the use of costume. In contrast to Lewis Cage, who is dressed much as an adult would
be dressed, Offy is ‘dressed up’. She has been made a child, and her sexuality has been denied, by the use of costume. These are not clothes that an adult would wear, they have been created to foster the impression of innocence that Reynolds is so eager for his viewers to see. The use of costume developed hand in hand as the cult of the Romantic Child was transformed to that of the Innocent Child - a child who existed in a timeless state of innocence, a child “clothed in signs both of not being like an adult and not belonging to adult time” (Higonnet, 1998 p.49). The use of costume differentiated the world of the child from that of the adult. It also, as in the case of The Age of Innocence, differentiated the body of the child from that of the adult (Higonnet, 1997).
Once the child has been detached from the adult world, and their sexuality denied, then the wearing of adult clothes is no longer a mimicking of adulthood, a signifier of the world of which they are (because they will be) part as is the case with George Villiers. Instead the adult clothes become a costume (Higonnet, 1998 p.28). The clothes do not serve any function outside the realm of ‘dressing up’. This is not ‘dressing up’ where the child has control, but ‘dressing up’ which is performed by adults for the creation of a piece of
art. The child becomes a clothes horse for the picture, the discrepancy between the adult nature of the clothing and the size or age of the child a humorous point for the adult viewer to wonder at. Higonnet uses the example of Reynolds’s portrait of Penelope Boothby (Higonnet, 1998 p. 28) to show how inappropriate costume on the child almost becomes something to mock, albeit in an endearing way.
Of course the child is not expected to be aware of this cute-making mockery (though Annette Kuhn’s painful memories of her childhood fancy dress outfits (Kuhn, 1995) shows children are both emotionally and socially aware of the costumes they are paraded in). They have been transformed, both by costume and by wider culture (Heywood, 2001), from the Rousseauesque Romantic Child, at one with nature and yet to be corrupted, into the Innocent Child - a child who, though yet to be corrupted, is defined by his/her unknowingness and abstraction from the temporal adult world. We can laugh at the child because they don’t know they are being laughed at. Where the Romantic Child is empowered by its childhood, the Innocent Child is disempowered by its childhood. They are incapable beings who, due to the virtual disability of their childhood, are subject to the control of adults. Making a subject childlike to disempower them has other precedents. Andy
Grundberg mentions how National Geographic portrays non-Western peoples as ‘Childlike’ (Grundberg, 1990) while in Victorian times, French and British photographic records of colonised people’s often showed them as childlike and innocent (Parr and Badger, 2005 p.47), in the process justifying imperial rule as a benevolent and responsible form of subjugation.
This use of costume intensified the cultural shift towards the Innocent child. Gainsborough’s Blue Boy and the illustrations of Kate Greenaway all show the transition from the natural innocence of the Romantic Child to the timeless, and innate, innocence of the Innocent Child (Higonnet, 1998 p.49).
The idea of the Innocent child was pre-eminent in the Victorian era, especially in the work of Julia Margaret Cameron, Lady Clementina Hawarden and Charles Dodgson. Most interesting, and certainly most controversial is the work of Charles Dodgson. Dodgson’s best-known photograph is The Beggar Maid (see figure 8). It shows Alice Liddell, the Alice of Dodgson’s (aka Lewis Carroll) Alice in Wonderland books, leaning against a worn stone wall. She wears a dress of pale rags. Her left hand is on her hip, her right palm cupped open in front of her as though holding something. One shoulder is bare, and the sleeves of her dress hang loose
over her arms while below her legs stand apart, one stretched forward the other supporting her against the wall as she looks just to one side of the viewer, her head tilted.
According to Higonnet, this is a picture that in its time was as innocent as an image like Millais’s Cherry Ripe - an image that, because it portrayed natural innocence, was naturally innocent itself (Higonnet, 1998). This view is also asserted by Morton Cohen who said Dodgson inherited a romantic view of childhood that “assumed the child came into this world innocent and pure” (Cohen, 1999). However, The Beggar Maid was made in a society that had “the Victorian fear of the animal in women,” (Mavor, 1996 p.18) where government legislated on child prostitution, sexually transmitted diseases and age of consent formed “some of the greatest debates over the female body” (Mavor, 1996 p.19). So although the idea of the sexually innocent child was prevalent at the time, this idea was accompanied by Christian ideas of the child necessarily corrupted by Original Sin. It should be remembered that many members of the Evangelical Movement, which came to prominence in the late 18th century, considered, “All Children are by nature evil” (Heywood, 2001 p.26).
As we have seen, the use of costume aided the transition to innocence. Yet just as costume could help desexualise childhood, as in the case of Reynolds’ Age of Innocence, so it could sexualise it, and also recontextualise it. This is what Dodgson did with his photography of children, and with The Beggar Maid in particular. The Beggar Maid shows Alice Liddell, a young middle-class girl, and (by virtue of Victorian ideas of age and class) a non-sexual being. “Immoral sexuality...” was “...always concerned with the lower classes” says Mavor(Mavor, 1996 p.38). If Alice is middle-class and therefore asexual, the only way to sexualise her is by changing her class or her age. So Dodgson sexualised her in a controlled way that creates a space
Figure 8: The Beggar Maid
of “difference”((Mavor, 1996 p.39) for Dodgson to inhabit where sexuality is apparent in the visual world created by his photograph, but controlled by the reality of his subject’s age and class.
Not everybody believes Dodgson’s images portray sexuality. Morten Cohen, among others, denies there is anything sexual portrayed in Dodgson’s images (Cohen, 1999). Mavor believes this is due to that writer’s repression and reluctance to “acknowledge the sexuality of children...” and the taboos that accompany this acknowledgement (Mavor, 1996 p.11). Denial of child sexuality can be seen as another element in the disempowering of the child something that is central to the idea of the Innocent Child.
So to label Dodgson and his photography “innocent and pure” is as “improbable and senseless” (if we accept Freud’s views that children have a sexuality that predates their adolescence) as saying child sexuality is something that suddenly pops out of nowhere at the age of 12 or 13 (Mavor, 1996 p.10).
This creation of a “zone of difference” was a device Dodgson repeated in his use of costume to orientalize, and so signify sexual availability in his picture
of Xie Kitchin in Chinese dress (Cohen, 1996 p.66). Similarly Agnes Weld as Little Red Riding Hood (Cohen, 1999) uses costume to portray the young Agnes as the main character from a story that is implicitly about the dangers of burgeoning female sexuality. Most obvious of all is the use of ‘costume’ in his nude photograph of Evelyn Hatch where the orientalized ‘pig-girl’ (Mavor, 1996 p.12) is made both available (and unavailable) through her costume of odalisque, nudity and make up.
This dualism of the real and the unreal, the sexual and the non-sexual is something reinforced by the asymmetry and intentional flaws of the photograph - what Higonnet calls the “artlessness” of The Beggar Maid ( Higonnet, 1998 p.110) - the asymmetry and intentional flaws of the picture. This artlessness undermines the work as a work of art, but at the same time reinforces it by emphasing just how natural, spontaneous and innocent the work is, as natural, spontaneous and innocent as the child it portrays.
Both the use of costume and a certain artlessness are mirrored in The Rose Garden. As mentioned in the introduction, unkempt hair, bruises and shadows under her eyes show that Emily, though young, is not flawless. Just as with Alice Liddell, there is an asymmetry to Emily’s pose and her
proportions have a slightly skewed perspective. This is no accident. Loretta Lux is a perfectionist who spends months touching up and teasing her photographs over a period of months (Aletti, 2004). As with Dodgson, the effect is to emphasise the spontaneity and imperfection of the child. This, together with the low camera angle creates a world for the child to dominate and inhabit. Emily’s dress points to a culture-specific (that of East Germany in the 1970s) use of costume as well as referencing the use of dress to reflect historic conceptions of childhood from medieval times through to that of Germany’s Communist era.
Through the use of both landscape and costume, Lux refers both to adult worlds and a carefully manicured vision of childhood. The conflict between these two opposing worlds is what gives The Rose Garden its striking power. The question is how much, if any, input there is from Emily. Is The Rose Garden just a figment of Lux’s German imagination or does it represent something of the world as lived in by Emily? Is she a free and wild Romantic child as indicated by the landscape, or an Innocent, manipulated child whose self is denied, like Reynolds’ Offy, by Lux’s portrayal? Or perhaps she is something else, a Knowing Child whose world is recognized and described by Lux’s imagination and creative control.
Chapter 3: The Look of the Knowing Child
In The Rose Garden, Lux controls landscape, costume and colour. As we have already seen, the picture references historical representations of childhood as well as referring to Communist ideas of childhood from her own upbringing in the former East Germany. So much has been put into the picture by Lux, it would seem there is little room left for the girl herself. However, despite all of Luxâ€™s interventions, Emily still dominates the image, rising above the Romantic, the Innocent and the Communist Child to have integrity within herself.
So although Lux creates parallel worlds for the girl to inhabit, the girl inhabits a world that is not controlled by Lux. The power of the picture lies in the girl herself, and something she portrays. This ability to portray the child is connected to Luxâ€™s working practice and also the idea of the Knowing Child, of which the girl in the Rose Garden is a prime example. To examine why she is a Knowing Child, it is necessary to look at the work of photographers who have broken with the idea of the Innocent Child to create a more sophisticated, child-centred vision of childhood.
Foremost among these photographers is Sally Mann. In The New Mothers (figure 9), Mann portrays her two daughters dressed up as new mothers. To the left of frame a doll sits in a pram, while mid-frame Jessie holds one of the pramâ€™s handles. In the other hand she holds a candy cigarette. Virginia wears heart-shaped glasses and stands with one hand on her hips, the other clutching a baby. Both girls are barefoot, their bodies tilted slightly to the left. They wear creased summer dresses and stare in a desultory manner that confronts and accuses. They smoke, go barefoot and in true southern style appear to frankly not give a damn. If the pretence were continued weâ€™d find they drink, do drugs and go on one-night stands with strangers they meet at roadhouse rib-nights. These n ew mothers are Bad Mothers.
Figure 9: The New Mothers
The New Mothers is a typical example of Sally Mann’s work. It is a picture which upsets “cherished conventions of idyllic childhood” (Higonnet, 1998 p.103) and is “not easy to look at”. Here, the costumes the children wear portray mothermood. Yet, unlike the portrait of George and Francis Villiers they do not show the adult mothers the girls will become, nor are they a costume of disguise as worn by Offy in The Age of Innocence. And though the picture may have been set up by Mann, it features clothes that were originally chosen by the girls. So when Higonnet writes that the picture shows Mann “ripping at old fantasies of a naturally ideal innocence” (Higonnet, 1998 p.204), it might be more accurate to say that the picture shows the girls ripping at those fantasies. Rather than showing Sally Mann’s view of motherhood, it shows us how Jessie and Virginia see motherhood and carelessly-dressed, smoking mothers might not be ten-a-penny on Sally Mann’s country home, but in the wilder world of West Virginia, they certainly are.
So Virginia and Jessie stare out at us, their gazes manufactured both out of their games-playing and out of their quoted boredom at repeated posing for their mother’s picture taking (Woolcock, 1992). Virginia’s eyes look out at
us, dark and with bags under them, the fatigue of childhood melding with that of her imagined white-trash motherhood. Their dress and pouts present a child’s eye view of the adult world and in so doing it also shows us the child’s world. Jessie and Virginia are mimicking what they have seen and bringing it into their children’s dressing-up game. There is no romantic oneness with nature in this image, no fabricated innocence or imaginary idylls.
Higonnet writes about the “primal origins” of motherhood and the violent emotions of caring, loving and always separating from a being that was once part of her (Higonnet, 1998). Similarly, Katherine Tanko writes of the emotional roller coaster of motherhood, the primitive urges of looking after a child whose emotional life reveals “her struggle with that violent and beautiful thing called the human condition” (Tanko, 2005). So just as motherhood is founded on dark and primal forces, so it is apparent in childhood, whether it be in the death, sex and violence preoccupations of Higonnet’s childhood (Higonnet, 1998 p.205) or the childhood fantasies of Sally Mann’s Immediate Family. In The New Mothers, we are presented with children who live in their own world - a child’s world where the dark shadows of sex, violence and death are ever-present in a form more primal
and subsconscious than that experienced in the adult world. All Mann’s work does is show us the child’s world is as dark and complex as that of the adult.
The darkness and complexity of this world is not conveyed through the costume of Mann’s children, nor by anything mediated by Mann. Rather it is conveyed by the cold look of Virginia (Jessie is very much a follower in this picture). World-weary fatigue combines with a barely concealed exasperation to create an image of a child’s ennui with her photographer mother. Mann may have directed much of this picture, but this gaze belongs to Virginia alone. Mann’s repeated retaking of pictures was a tiresome procedure for her children ( Woolcock, 1992), but it was a retaking that had a purpose. By taking the same picture again and again, it created a gap for the children to inhabit - a gap where the children are not acting but instead are expressing themselves. Their emotions may be negative - those of impatience, irritation, ennui and even callousness and contempt, but those are emotions that children experience more deeply and widely than adults. So Mann replaces the inauthenticity of the staged photograph with the reality of childhoods that are replete with the emotions of the non-innocent. The New Mothers rips at two fantasies and that is what makes it so difficult for some people to look at. It rips at the idea of the selfless mother figure as well
as that of the Innocent Child. Just as mothers are portrayed taking forbidden pleasures, so children are portrayed having forbidden knowledge. The Innocent Child has become The Knowing Child. As Higonnet says, “These Knowing Children have bodies and passions of their own. They are also often aware of adult bodies and passions, whether as mimics or only witnesses” (Higonnet, 1998 p.207).
Rineke Dijkstra employs a different strategy to reveal the subjects of her Beach Portraits. In her Hilton Head Portrait, she portrays the girl in the apricot bikini standing alone against the bleak background described in Chapter One. The landscape is stripped and the girl is stripped “as a means of identification” (Grundberg, 1997). Dijkstra “wants to awaken definite sympathies for the person I have photographed” (Grundberg, 1997). She does this by creating a vacuum for the person to fill. “Her camera is not an instrument of intrusion”, says Grundberg (Grundberg, 1997). However, it is an instrument of expectation. Having a camera pointed at you brings expectations of how to behave. Should one smile, be serious or aloof? Even once it has been established that the photographer does not expect something of the subject, there is still a tendency for the subject to act, to conceal herself/himself in some way. The girl in the apricot bikini could conceal
herself by goofing around or acting like the glamorous adult she will become (and she has made herself up as an adult), but she does not. With Dijkstra’s passive but all-seeing lens directed at her, the girl in the apricot bikini knows something is expected of her but (under Dijkstra’s neutral direction) she is confused and unsure of what she is expected to do or who she is expected to be.
Unlike the majority of Dijkstra’s Beach Portraits subjects, the girl asked to be photographed. However, as it was getting dark, Dijkstra asked her to return the next day. In Dijkstra’s Beach Portraits monologue, Carol Ehlers says, “The girl returned, wearing make-up and jewellery, probably expecting to be directed as in a fashion shoot” (Dijkstra, 2003). The girl in the apricot bikini wants to please but she is unsure about what to do. She is stuck between two of Barthes four image-repertoires (Barthes, 1993 p.13) as she oscillates between the self she thinks she is and the self she wants others to think she is. The fashion shoot illusions have evaporated and “she looks frightened and a bit confused” (Dijkstra, 2003). The conflict between expectation and uncertainty reflects the uncertainty of her adolescence and the necessity to please that is such a mark of contemporary American womanhood (Faludi, S. 1991). There is a gap between expectation and
action, and in this gap the doubt and uncertainty of the girlâ€™s life crystallize before her and she reveals herself by gazing through the camera with a look that reveals a confused and anxious self-awareness. Despite the jewellery and make-up, she does not pretend to be somebody else, or adopt a persona determined by social expectation. Instead, she incidentally pleases the photographer by breaking through Barthes image-repertoires and being herself - an adolescent girl riddled with all the neurosis and anxiety American Culture can throw at her. This revelation of self is what is expected of her, though of course for Dijkstra to get her subjects to reveal themselves she cannot say this explicitly. And because Dijkstra does not know the girl intimately, she does not know the self that is to be revealed. Dijkstra only knows what she wants the girl to do when the girl does it. Such is the double-think of photography. Like Virginia, the girl in the apricot bikini is a Knowing Child. Her look acknowledges what the future holds and, as with Jessie, this future has bleak and tawdry elements.
The strategies employed by both Mann and Dijkstra are very similar. Their photographs are extremely controlled in terms of lighting, composition, landscape and costume. However, there is the element of the unexpected, that human element that is left to chance. Garry Winogrand said, â€œI
photograph to find out what something will look like photographedâ€? (Dyer, 2006 p.199) and both Mann and Dijkstra could say the same thing. They photograph people to see what they look like photographed.
In the same way, Lux creates a vacuum for her children to fill. The way she does this is almost incidental, a direct result of her working practice. Her photographic sessions take place in a simple studio or outdoors, with a basic lighting set up that uses two softboxes and flash. She breaks her shooting schedule into two sessions - one that concentrates on the face, the other that concentrates on posture and pose (Pantall, 2005). In each of these sessions the child is subjected to a relentless barrage of snapping as Lux moves around her subjects. She is warm and friendly with the children but very much focussed on the job at hand. These sessions, with breaks for snacks, lunch or dinner, may last as long as 5 hours (Pantall, 2005), during which time any distraction for the child comes from their parent or guardian. In such circumstances, children inevitably get bored and distracted. Their minds wander, their imaginations take hold and they are transported into another world, a world that is reflected through their gaze.
In The Rose Garden, this gaze can run off beyond the camera, suggesting
something “dreamy” and “vacant” or “determined” and “forward-looking” (Lutz, C. and Collins, J. 1991). It is the gaze that Bryson describes as “prolonged and contemplative, yet regarding the field of vision with a certain aloofness and disengagement” (Bryson, N. 1983).
This use of the gaze is what provides Lux’s images with their power. It gives us entry into the child’s world by showing us something that lies outside the control of the photographer. It is interesting to contrast this use of the gaze with images that deliberately disallow the gaze of the child.
Documentary photography and photojournalism are two areas where children have been denied by removing their gaze. Children started to be shown as part of a harsher world than that portrayed by Dodgson and Cameron in the late 19th century. Jacob Riis photographed the horrendous living conditions experienced by immigrant communities in New York’s Lower East Side. In How the Other Half Lives, (Riis, 1890) Riis constructed images to have the greatest impact possible on his middle class audience by using the ideals of the Victorian Innocent Child as a foil against which his used children, or ‘Street Arabs’ as he called them, would underline the deprivation he witnessed.
In Street Arabs in Sleeping Quarters (Figure 10), we see a cluster of 3 small children huddled over a grate. They appear to be homeless, but whether this is the case we don’t know - Riis would pay children to enact scenes of crime and deprivation for him and these children are, though probably homeless, almost certainly pretending to be sleeping for the camera.
The children lie stretched out on their grate, one in the corner, his right hand resting uncomfortably on his right ankle, another snuggled into his shoulder and the third crunched up against a wall, his profile in the camera’s view. These children sit in uncomfortable poses. Their clothes are grubby and ill-fitting, their ‘home’ cold and unforgiving, and the overall sentiment is that of the feral. But of the children themselves, we know nothing. Although it is daytime, their eyes (probably under Riis’s instructions) are shut. Their gaze has been rendered void by Riis’ posing and we can only catch an idea of the world they live in through that which Riis allows us to see. Everything is in his control. We know nothing about the children because Riis shows us nothing (outside his agenda of using photography as a tool of social control).
Figure 10: Street Arabs in Sleeping Quarters This use of control was entirely in keeping with Riis’s aim, which was to make hard-hitting photographs that would horrify his privileged viewers. Riis’s message was that poverty must be eradicated, not for the sake of the poor, but for the preservation of order in society. Abigail Solomon-Godeau points out Riis’s photography was “...part of the larger enterprise of surveillance, containment and social control, and the imperatives of ‘Americanisation’” (Solomon-Godeau, 1991 p.171).
The denial of the inner world of these children helped to simultaneously present and undermine preconceived ideas of childhood. In Riis’s photographs, poverty was not just an economic fall, but a moral one too. The children were essentially innocent, but corrupted by their poverty. Riis
implies that, in the right class and with the right upbringing, those children would thrive in a state of clean and wholesome innocence. The children’s fall, like the poverty in which they lived, was the fault of the (immigrant) communities which Riis photographed. In Riis’s work, children exist in a state of denied innocence and this innocence is the constant referent which gives his images of children their particular power, yet which also renders those same children absolutely impotent by denying them their own consciousness, gaze and psychological space. If Lux and Mann show examples of the Knowing Child, The Street Arabs are examples of a new category, the Unknowing Child.
Another example in which the denied, Unknowing Child features heavily is Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother, which was made under the auspices of The Farm Security Administration (FSA) photographic project. The FSA was set up to move poor farmers into more profitable areas of work and under the leadership of Roy Stryker, the photographic division was devised “...to gather photographic evidence of the agency’s good works and transmit these images to the press” (Marien, 2002, p. 282).
“When Dorothea took that picture, that was the ultimate,” Roy Stryker, the
head of the photo section of the FSA said in 1972 of Migrant Mother. “To me, it was the picture of the FSA... You can see anything you want in her. She is immortal.” (Stryker and Wood, 1973).
Lange’s Migrant Mother (Figure 11) is defined both by her children and the title of the photograph. Two of her children crouch around her, their faces concealed by their hands, while in her lap lies her sleeping baby. She is weighed down by her children, by her failure to provide for them, to care for them and to protect them from the rigours of depression-era America. Florence Thompson, the Migrant Mother, may be poor and Cherokee, but really she is just a mother - a mother without a name whose photographic identity is determined by her children.
Yet while the children determine her identity as a mother, they have none themselves. The baby aside, we do not see their faces. Instead they are turned away. In the picture we are given to believe it is because of their poverty and the subsequent suffering it causes their mother, but rather it is because Lange posed the photo that way. The child’s suffering is used, in effect, to provoke sympathy f or the mother, but the children do not have their own identity - even their experience of their situation is given to
Figure 11: Migrant Mother us through the mother - whose own identity is only resolved through her children (including the absence of one older child who was not included in the picture). And because she is a mother who is defined by children who have no identity, she in effect loses all her identity outside the socially accepted ideas of what it is to be a mother. You can, as Stryker says, see anything you want in her because almost nothing is shown of her. Migrant Mother is a photographic hall of mirrors in which the identity of the mother
is determined by the children and vice versa. You cannot look at one, without looking at the other.
In 1972, Florence Thompson, said, “That’s my picture hanging all over the world, and I can’t get a penny out of it.” (Rosler, 1981). The problem is it’s not really her picture at all - it’s Dorothea Lange’s vision of a generically impoverished migrant mother, a constructed image that denies both childhood and adulthood through the absence of gaze.
The portraits of Florence Holder that were produced for Dr Barnado’s are an example in which childhood is exploited for philanthropic gain. Here the child is not denied through absence of gaze, but denied through a redefinition of their childhood. In the picture of the girls taken when they were put into Barnado’s care by their mother, Florence is shown with her sister Eliza (figure 12). Her arm is protectively placed over Eliza’s shoulder and her expression is one of a caring fortitude. Her hair is combed, her dress, though dirty, is straight and she is wearing a pair of boots. She is “poorly, but decently clad” (Mavor, 1996 p.39). However, the picture ‘artistically’ used to illustrate Florence before (figure 13) she came into Barnado’s care portrays her with unkempt hair, a rumpled dress and without boots.
She has a distressed expression and is holding a newspaper as though she had been selling newpapers on the street. What Barnado called â€œartistic fictionâ€? (Mavor, 1996 p.38) has been used to make images designed to elicit pity. In this picture, the posing has made Florence Holder betray herself and, through the absence of her mother and sister and the fabricated implications of maternal neglect, her emotional, social and family life. Florence Holder is clearly unhappy in the artistic fiction. This is good for Barnado - after all, she is supposed to be the unhappy, Unknowing Child that only Barnadoâ€™s can save. However, this unhappiness might also be an unconstructed response of Florence to the inauthenticity of the photograph and the message it seeks to convey. In that case, Florence has inadvertently transcended the
Unknowing Child Barnado has sought to create. The reality of Barnadoâ€™s photographic practice has slipped through the gaps and transformed the Unknowing Florence Holder into a child who knows exactly what is happening.
The examples of the work of Riis, Lange and Barnado show how constructed photography can present children as Unknowing. The following chapter will examine other constructed images of childhood and question whether authenticity can occur in such constructed images and, if a picture is to be considered an authentic representation of childhood, what makes that representation authentic.
Chapter 4: Constructed Childhoods.
Lux’s photography is manipulated work that creates an image out of disparate elements. This chapter will examine photographic manipulations through a range of constructed images from Victorian times to the present. It will also look at the differences between adult preconceptions of childhood portrayed in the photograph and images that reflect the child’s world without seeking recourse to adult views of what childhood is. This point will be reinforced by briefly examining the question of the way children’s sexuality can be portrayed in the photograph from a child’s point of view or from a perspective imposed by the adult. Ploughing down a well worn, and almost barren furrow, it will also look at the idea of truth and authenticity in manipulated photography through some of the artists mentioned above and place Lux’s photography in relation to this work.
In the previous chapter, we saw how the use of gaze created the Knowing Child. Higonnet ties this idea of the Knowing Child to sexuality, referring especially to Sally Mann’s Immediate Family work to show how Mann turns her maternity into a broad-based vehicle of desire to “flaunt” the physical beauty of her children, her status as a mother and her creative
power as an artist (Higonnet, 1998). This merges the personal and the professional in a way that has caused controversy and raised the question of whether Mann exploited her children for personal profit (Higonnet, 1998 p.196). It also raises the question of whether Mann’s type of constructed image does provide an authentic vision of childhood or merely presents an adult preconception of that childhood.
Much of the controversy raised by Mann’s work relies on the intimacy of her photographs, an intimacy that is based on her being the mother of Virginia, Jessie and Emmett. As Higonnet notes, this is what shocked people. Mann stepped outside the accepted bounds of motherhood by involving her children in a creative, artistic and (whisper it quietly) commercial enterprise. She stepped outside the caring mother role to photograph her children - and her children, wanting to please their mother, obliged her by posing. Mann combined two roles in a synthesis where the photographer was the mother and the mother was the photographer. As Fletcher points out, for some critics this combining of roles compromised their idealised view of a single-visioned motherhood (Fletcher, 1998). Just as the idealised mother shouldn’t drink, smoke, swear, have sex or bear occasional feelings of ill-will towards their offspring, so they shouldn’t photograph in the
commercial manner that Mann did. Of course, the bounds of this idealised motherhood are as limiting as the bounds of the innocent child - both are synthetic concepts that have a barely concealed subtext of disempowerment and subjugation. So Mann is a transgressor both for having a professional non-maternal life and for portraying her children outside the realms of accepted innocence (Fletcher, 1998).
However, Mann’s images of her children are intensely physical and open to different readings. Higonnet writes about how Mann’s Last Light can be read as a Madonna and Child Image, a throttling image or a sickness or tattoo image (Higonnet, 1998). Fletcher also points out this ambiguity. In works like Virginia in the Sun and Wet Bed, although “...you know her children must be alive...” there is also a feeling that they could be dead (Fletcher, 2006).
Higonnet says Mann’s images are “erotically beautiful”. She also says that anybody who already sees children as creatures for their sexual gratification will see Mann’s work as pictures that will satisfy their carnal desires, though this was not Mann’s intention. In other words, one can see Mann’s work as art or one can see it as pornography depending on one’s particular
predilections and hang-ups. This point indicates a gap between intention and affect - a gap that finds an echo in different interpretations of child sexuality and also different interpretations of what it is to be a child.
Mann’s work conveys “two conflicting messages: childhood innocence and adult sexuality” (Higonnet, p.195). However, these are concepts that are imposed on the child by the adult world. As we have seen in previous chapters, the Innocent Child is a construct created in the 19th century that still has an effect on how we see children today. Certainly Mann refers to and exploits that idealised innocence but at the same time she undermines it. Her children are Knowing Children that have a world view and inner life of their own.
And though we can impose adult sexuality on these children and so read Mann’s photographs in particular ways, this is not what Mann intended. In Vile Bodies, Mann says that child sexuality is an “oxymoron” (Woolcock, 1992). Here Mann has a self-defined view of what constitutes child sexuality. This makes sense if we think of this “child sexuality” as an adult concept imposed from an adult world where links between sex, religion, art theory, psychoanalytic theory and paedophilia predominate, where sexuality,
as Goldstein notes (Goldstein, 1998), is seen in the coital sense. In this case, â€œchild sexualityâ€? is an oxymoron in the sense that this view of sexuality is something imposed on the child. However, if we see child sexuality as something that refers to the unconscious physicality of the child and the way they interact with themselves, others and the world around them, then it is not an oxymoron, but is a way of understanding childhood that allows the child to inhabit a world that is of their own making. This is what Mann does. Her pictures do portray child sexuality, but it is a sexuality of their own making, a sexuality that, viewed from an adult perspective, combines the Romantic Child, the Knowing Child and the Innocent Child (Fletcher, 1998). This sexuality is created by the gaps Mann allows for her children in her constructions. And it is these gaps of gaze, pose and being that make her photographs authentic records of what it is to be a child.
A contrasting view of childhood sexuality is provided by Lewis Cage. Here sexuality is imposed on the young cricketer, albeit through symbols rather than gaze and pose. The oversized bat the boy holds is a phallic symbol of the sexualised adulthood he will enter - adult sexuality was overwhelmingly a male sexuality - while the labial folds on his breeches indicate his feminine side and a childhood innocence - childhood innocence was a predominantly
female trait - of which he is still part. The sexual symbolism of the ball at the opening of the wickets also affirm this dual sexual identity. Male and female, adult and child, the five-year-old Lewis Cage exists in several different worlds simultaneously. The right leg exposed by what seems to be an intentionally undone stocking, the undone flap on his breeches also suggest an available sexuality, that someone has been rummaging around where they shouldn’t. And by the grip he has on his cricket bat, the positioning of his left hand on his stomach, and his knowing smile suggest that someone could be Lewis Cage himself. Perhaps the landscape he is romantically part of includes his own body. This use of symbols serves to emphasise that Cage is separated from the adult world but also part of it. The Romantic Child has become a Knowing Child but, inasmuch as the symbols used by Cotes are those of childhood, this is a sexuality that is imposed sympathetically and in parentheses to the child himself. This is a sexuality that is constructed but, because the symbols of that sexuality are portrayed outside Lewis Cotes, is almost not part of the child himself.
In contrast to this sympathetically projected view of childhood is John Everett Millais’s portrait of young girlhood, Cherry Ripe (figure 14). In this picture the girl is caught “before the contamination of adolescence” (Mavor,
1996 p.14) in a way that she reads as “sexualised but not sexual” ( Mavor, 1996 p.42). The girl is dressed in a costume of an oversized bonnet and a white dress with a pink sash and matching pink slippers. The costume covers her body and is something the girl has been passively dressed in. As was noted in the chapter on the Innocent Child, this has the effect of making the girl a ‘child’ to be seen by adults. The dressing up of the girl has transformed the girl into someone subjugated by the adult world. She has become the classic Victorian Innocent Child, a being who has neither a self nor a sexuality that comes from within.
However, Cherry Ripe is intensely sexual in a way that imposes sexuality on the girl from obvious adult perspectives. The title is a sexual invitation (by the artist, not the girl) for a start. The girl is likened to a cherry, ripe for picking - just like the plucked cherries in the basket by her side. The oversized head with its doe-like eyes, pouting lips and red cheeks looks out at us like a child’s doll.
Figure 14: Cherry Ripe Beneath the voluminous dress, her legs are open slightly and her hands are held together to form an open vulva shape, with a clitoral thumb at the top.
Her hands are wearing black gloves which seem tied, bondage-like, across the palm. (Higonnet, 1998 p.132). Cherry Ripe then is a picture made by adults for other adults. It portrays concepts of both innocence and sexuality, but these are concepts applied from above, from an adult perspective. Of the Knowing Child portrayed by Mann and others, there is almost nothing.
Apparently the picture is an adult view of childhood, a view that combines the saccharine and the sexual in equal parts. It proposes innocence and then undermines it in a way that would have been entirely understandable in Victorian Britain (Mavor, 1996) where mixed messages and the saying of one thing and doing another were second nature. The cliche of Victorian hypocrisy did not arise out of a vacuum.
Cherry Ripeâ€™s popularity - it sold over 600,000 copies as a magazine centrefold (Higonnet, 1998 p.51) - is based on the pictureâ€™s mix of the sexual and the innocent. Though there is nothing of the Knowing Child about the girl, the sexuality that is imposed on her is one that is not merely subjugated. Her smile, her lips, her cheeks and her open-handed gesture also attribute a receptive pleasure to her sexuality. So, perhaps Millais was acknowledging
an essential element of his the girl’s life that goes beyond the accepted the norms of the time and indeed predated Freudian theories of infant sexuality by many years. Like Mavor, he was blasphemous and acknowledged “the sexuality of children and of the Victorian child at that” (Mavor, 1996, p.11).
Garry Gross’s image of Brooke Shields, Sugar and Spice, imposes
Figure 15: By Richard Prince, A Photograph of Brooke Shields by Garry Gross
sexuality on its subject in a much more exploitative manner. After the picture was taken, the image was appropriated by Richard Prince who exhibited it as By Richard Prince, A Photograph of Brooke Shields by Garry Gross (figure 15). Prince was taken by the layers of meaning in the photograph and also the court case over ownership of the image between Gross and Brooke Shields’ mother. “Terrie, Brooke Shields' mother recognizes what this picture could possibly suggest, (not about Brooke, but about her). In a word: "pimp". When the picture was taken, Brooke was ten years old but Gary Gross made her head up to look like an older woman. Then he went to the trouble of oiling her body to heighten and refract the presence of her "he-she" adolescence. Now we've got a body with two different sexes, maybe more, and a head that looks like it's got a different birthday” ( Prince, 2005).
This imposition of sexuality on Brooke Shields through make-up, oil and lighting is of a completely different nature to that found in Cherry Ripe. It is an exploitative image that sells Shields, or the image of Shields, as a sexual being (though Shields insists she never felt exploited in her early portrayals as a sex symbol (Higonnet, 1998 p.151)). No gap is left for Shields to fill as herself. Instead, as Prince suggests, she has been “pimped” by both her
mother and the photographer, as a sexual fantasy figure whose identity has been defined by the crude sexualising symbols of oil and make-up. And while Prince sees her being sold as a two-sexed being, she is actually being sold as a two-aged being - a girl and a woman, both of whom are sexually available (for a price), both of whom have a sexuality that is directed outwards towards the satisfaction of the viewer with no reference to the child’s world or the inner life of Brooke Shields herself. “Brooke is both her and it at the same time... . And as an it, is in a sense the subject of an impersonal verb that expresses a condition without referring to an agent. The condition that's expressed is an objective resemblance of Brooke that could never be guaranteed in daily life. This is what photographs can do... I felt I was in partnership which the picture.There didn't seem to be any interruption between what was imagined by the picture and what was imagined by me...” (Prince, 2005).
The welding of adult sexuality onto a child’s body, together with the transformation of Shields into a pimped ‘it’, makes Sugar and Spice paedophilic in nature. Another photographer often accused of producing paedophilic images is Charles Dodgson. However, Dodgson’s images do not produce the externally sexualised ‘it’ that Gross’s glamour photography
makes, but instead relies on the personality of his young girl subjects themselves.
Dodgson’s most famous photographer is probably his portrait of Alice Liddell (the Alice of Alice in Wonderland) as The Beggar Maid (figure 9). With its connotative title, The Beggar Maid operates in a similar way to Cherry Ripe. Dodgson portrays different visions of childhood and complicates the mix with the title of the photography and his own attitudes to children and social class. The title in itself refers to the myth of Cophetua, a king who only found love when a bare-footed beggar maid came into his court. The Beggar Maid captured the imaginations of Victorian Britain and “reflected a common subject among the Pre-Raphaelite artists and photographers of the time” (Alexander J.,2004). Edward Burne Jones painted it, Julia Margaret Cameron photographed it and Alfred, Lord Tennyson (who describes Dodgson’s picture as “the most beautiful picture ever” (Higonnet, 1998 p.125)) wrote about it in his poem, The Beggar Maid?( Tennyson, 1833).
Her arms across her breast she laid; She was more fair than words can say: Bare-footed came the beggar maid Before the king Cophetua. In robe and crown the king stept down, To meet and greet her on her way; 'It is no wonder,' said the lords, 'She is more beautiful than day.'
As shines the moon in clouded skies, She in her poor attire was seen: One praised her ankles, one her eyes, One her dark hair and lovesome mien. So sweet a face, such angel grace, In all that land had never been: Cophetua sware a royal oath: 'This beggar maid shall be my queen!' (Tennyson, 1833)
The poem reinforces the idea of Alice Liddell, the girl who â€˜playsâ€™ the Beggar Maid being rendered sexually available through a transformation of
her class. It is an idea that can be summed up in the Graham Greene’s idea of The Cophetua Complex (Greene, 2004) - a desire for lower-class women. So Alice is transformed both by her dress, as described in chapter 2, and by reference to the myth of Cophetua, with Dodgson in the role of King Cophetua. Just as in Cherry Ripe, The Beggar Maid has been sexualised by external factors. However, in contrast to Cherry Ripe, these external factors are not transparent symbols of childhood sexuality but personal and cultural references that place Alice Liddell in the space of “difference” that Carol Mavor refers to. This space situates Alice in an imagined world that sits between three opposing poles - the adult/child, the lower class/upper class and the sexual/non-sexual.
The Beggar Maid is constructed, but the question is “Are we seeing the real Alice Liddell, Alice Liddell as Dodgson wanted to project her, or Alice Liddell as she wished to project herself - to us or to the photographer?” (Alexander,2004). The answer is we probably see all three. Alexander notes that Dodgson was adept at capturing his subjects as “a living sentient being, warm, whole, feeling, at one within her own person - far from the wooden figures of “pre-adults found in artistic portraits of the time” (Alexander, 2004). So though we do see the Alice that Dodgson wants to project, we
also see an Alice that is at one with herself. Dodgson might be directing us to look at certain elements within the picture through the narratives imbued by costume and the photographâ€™s title, but at the same time, he is not in total control. Dodgson recognises the power of the young girl and allows her an autonomy to express herself in the photograph. The girl looks out at Dodgson (and us) with a mischievous look that assesses, challenges and plays with our conceptions of what it is to be a child. Dodgson has, like Mann or Dijkstra, created a gap in which Alice Liddell can be herself, the constructed nature of the work notwithstanding. This is a gap that was deliberately created in Dodgsonâ€™s working practice where he would chat, play, and tell stories to his young models (Cohen, 1999). As a result he created an atmosphere where the child could be herself. This portrayal of the young girl does not involve an adult imposition of innocence on the child, nor inflicts an adult preconception of what it is to be a child. Rather Alice emanates an idea of what it is to be a child - an idea that is in
Figure 16: Reverend Thomas Childe Barker and his daughter, May conflict with many of the Victorian assumptions of what middle-class childhood should be - intelligent, perceptive and physically, socially and sexually self-aware. Dodgsonâ€™s unorthodox vision of childhood can also be seen in other photographs. In Dodgsonâ€™s portraits of Reverend Thomas Childe Barker and his daughter, May (figure 16), the traditional Victorian
father sits on a bench and is dominated by his young daughter who looks down on him from above. The girl is the master in this image and her father the helpless servant. The patriarchal order of Victorian Britain has been overturned by Dodgson in much the same way that the Innocent Child is undermined in The Beggar Maid, both by Dodgson and by Alice herself.
If Dodgson allows his subjects into his photographs, Wendy Ewald actively encourages children to reveal themself through photography. While working on her first extended project in the Appalachian Mountains, she decided “to make a document of my new community, but the camera seemed to get in the way” (Ewald, 2000 p.7). Weinberg notes that Ewald believed “she might better manage her project by removing herself as the exclusive author and providing her students with tools and skills to document their own lives” (Ewald, 2000 p.7). The purpose of this was not just to provide children with the ability to shoot, develop and print film but also to challenge the divisions between “art and documentary photography, between photographer and subject, child and adult” (Ewald, 2000 p.8).
Ewald began this process when she gave cameras to children in isolated communities in North America and taught them to capture the harsh realities
of their daily lives from their own perspective. However, in her challenge to the “hierarchical and exclusively adult vision of our common humanity” (Ewald, 2000 p.17) Ewald had to learn what the children were seeing and so reinterprate her own vision of the child’s world from their perspective.
In Allen Shepherd’s I dreamt I killed my best friend, Ricky Dixon (figure 17) we see Ricky Dixon lying dead in the forked trunk of a tree. His arms are outstretched, his mouth open wide and his eyes closed. The photograph is a visualisation of Shepherd’s dream and an example of how Ewald brings children’s unconscious into photography through use of dreams and fantasies and also root that unconscious in the reality of the social, psychological and cultural environments they inhabit. Allen Shepherd’s image emerges from a fight (and a subsequent dream) he had with Ricky Dixon, while race, religion, family and death are themes that recur in Ewald’s projects across the world.
Figure 17: I dreamt I killed my best friend, Ricky Dixon As Weinberg says, the “sometimes menacing images produced by Ewald and her students” (Ewald, 2000 p.7) show us that we can’t assume there are experiences children do not know about. By showing us the extent of children’s understanding and their unconscious world, Weinberg believes Ewald is set apart from other photographers, like Hine, Mann and Levitt, who show images of children directed at grown-up sensibilities.
However, though some of Mann’s work is directed at adult sensibilities - Popsicle Drips with its referencing of Edward Weston’s Neil compositions is a good example (Higonnet, 1998 p.136) - it also reveals children’s sensibilities. An image like New Mothers emerges out of her children’s games and is reflective of the sensibilites that played those games. Ewald projects adult concepts of what is important onto her children and encourages children “to explore their dreams and fantasies as well as the day-to-dayness of their sometimes troubled existence” (Ewald, 2000 p.8) She places a value on the unconscious which directs an adult sensibility onto the children she works with. Similarly, when the children produce work, she also has to teach them that their roughly made pictures are good (Ewald, 2000 p.37), and possibly also that black and white polaroids are good. Ewald doesn’t construct the pictures themselves, but she does construct a framework of values that direct children’s work towards adult sensibilities in both the content and form of the images produced. Within this framework, she leaves space for the children to project their world-view onto the pictures. Though the pictures have been shaped by Ewald in some ways, Ewald’s own vision of childhood has been shaped by the children she has worked with (Ewald, 2000 p.8). So though there is an adult perspective
involved, the pictures Ewald’s children produce show us authentic perspectives that portray childhoods which are rooted in the complex environments they inhabit. The children do not show themselves as Romantic, Innocent or Knowing but rather as individuals existing in worlds where the worlds of the child and the adult interact and overlap. Ewald breaks down the boundaries between adult and child to reveal childhood as part of a process where all adults were once children and all children ( if death, a common theme in Ewald’s work, does not interrupt) will become adults. Children are, as in the pre-romantic era, mini-adults, but adults are also maxi-children.
Where does Emily of The Rose Garden stand in relation to these conflicting views of childhood? The construction of Loretta Lux does bring in the child’s perspective of childhood, but it is very different to that allowed by Ewald, Dodgson or Mann. At the same time, however, it also shares some common themes. Where Ewald frames her children’s pictures through ideas (the idea of the unconscious, the religious and the dreamworld) that she accentuates through her workshops, Lux visually creates that framework through her digital imposition of psychologically loaded landscapes onto her pictures. Ewald gives her children the freedom to choose their landscape,
Lux projects it onto her children. However, this projection of landscape onto the child is not something arbitrary, nor is it something pre-determined. The landscape is chosen in response to the child and the pose and gaze they come up with in their studio session.
The pose the child comes up with is something that is to a large extent determined by Lux. She tries to direct the children into particular poses that she can use later with separate looks. However, the gaze of the child is largely undetermined by Lux. Instead the child, though directed where to look or how wide to open her/his eyes, is not told how to look. The look, as was noted in the previous chapter, emerges as the session progresses and the child draws into himself/herself through boredom or bafflement. The look is one that reflects the internal world of the child - because that is the space that Lux photographs. By not engaging with Emily, Lux reveals aspects of Emily in exactly the same way that Dodgson reveals aspects of Alice Liddell by engaging with her. Lux photographs a child turned in on herself, Dodgson photographs Alice turned out on the world (with Dodgson acting as a medium through which Alice can project herself).
As Jane Fletcher points out, many writers and critics have compared Luxâ€™s
work to that of Dodgson (Fletcher, 2006), though Fletcher herself believes Lux’s photographs are “more pertinent to the original illustrations of ‘Alice’ by John Tenniel...” where Alice’s features are stretched and shrunk (Fletcher, 2006 p.4) in a similar way to the alterations Lux makes to the dimensions of her subjects through digital manipulation. “Boy or girl, the head is too big for the body, the eyes are too big for the face” (Fletcher 2006 p.4). However, in The Rose Garden (and other Lux images ) though the head is too big for the body - it has been pasted in from a separate image after all - the eyes are not too big for the body. Photographed at a wider angle than the body, the eyes do seem to stick out, giving rise to the widespread characterisation of Lux’s work as “bug-eyed children” (Pantall, 2006), but this is possibly due to the tricks of perspective made by having a larger head shot on a wider angle than the body and background - a trick of perspective that helps create the “grim and ambiguous” feeling of the German world of fairy tales (Fletcher, 2006 p.4).
Instead of merely creating bug-eyed children, Lux photographs a space that, through the child’s eyes, draws us into the child’s world. Lux then uses either a previously prepared background, or creates a new one, for the child to inhabit (Fletcher, 2006 p.4). This background/landscape then brings out
certain elements of the child and their childhood as revealed by the child/imagined by the viewer in their gaze. Of course Lux determines what we see and where we look and, with her background in art, she exploits the art historical to reference concepts of childhood that include the child as a mini-adult, the Innocent Child and the Knowing Child.
Sexual meaning may be added to the picture either deliberately or unconsciously. As we have seen, in the Rose Garden, the fecundity of the garden, the creeping nature of the rose tendrils and the open doorways of the walled space reference the girl’s burgeoning and barely concealed sexuality. However, this sexuality is something that lies external to Emily. Her sexuality is externalised in the same way in which Lewis Cage’s is externalised, although the symbolism of the Young Cricketer is more transparent.
Though the look is very different, Lux’s work is close to Mann’s in terms of working practice. Where Mann responds to her children’s games and movement around her West Virginia farm (Woolcock, 1992) and builds an image around those by restaging the game or activity, Lux responds to her children’s gazes and poses and builds a framework of meaning around those.
Both use control in their image but provide a space for their children to inhabit, and for both of these photographers that space is provided by ennui at the photographic process. The nature of this ennui is different for due to the different relationships Mann and Lux have with their subjects. The ennui of Mannâ€™s children is more intimate and has an ease of movement and expression about it that engages the children with the world around them and the games and activities they are supposed to be playing. The ennui of Luxâ€™s children is less familiar and with the sparseness of the surroundings they are photographed in and the lack of a relationship with Lux herself, the space the children move into is an internal one.
Conclusion: Real and Imaginary
The Rose Garden is a constructed picture that is composed of several different elements. Landscape, dress, the look and pose all contribute to the power of the image, and these elements reinforce each other through their digitally manipulated juxtaposition.
Lux’s use of landscape references Romantic visions of childhood where the child is portrayed as a privileged part of nature. At the same time, her use of landscape sexualises Emily and draws a distinction between the world of the child and that of the adult. Emily’s costume references the Innocent Child of Victorian England as well as Lux’s own childhood, but again sexualises the girl and blurs the distinction between adult and child. The blankness of gaze and awkward pose also create a contradictory message which draws us into Emily’s world while at the same time placing her in the world created for her by Lux.
With all these elements in place, the original question of whether The Rose Garden is real or imaginary needs to be asked once again. The Rose Garden is both real and imaginary. As we saw in the previous chapter, the way Lux
constructs her pictures around the gaze of the child after the fact shows there is a direct relationship with the child’s world. We, like Lux before us, are drawn into the child’s world through her gaze and through the elements of this world that are accentuated by Lux.
It is worth looking at similar images, examples of what Cowgill calls “the Lux Effect” (Cowgill, 2004), that try to do the same thing as Lux but fail to incorporate this reality principle. The work of Achim Lippoth, Julia Blackmon and Simen Johan are examples of this. Like Lux, Johan manipulates different elements of landscape, dress, look and light to create a striking image where the child is the centre. His Untitled 35 from his Evidence of Things Unseen series shows a girl dressed in a fur hat and clutching a plastic camera (figure 18). It is snowing and she is standing outside a law office. However the picture does not engage with the child and, instead of referencing the child’s world, Johan creates an otherworldly atmosphere where night, snow, costume, camera, background, weird lighting and weirder eyes conjure up an image that is more alien than childlike. It is an interesting image but it is entirely imaginary. The girl is, like Gross’s picture of Brooke Shields, both “her and it” (Prince, 2005) at the same time - and the “it” is an alien “it” not a human or child “it”. And though Johan
claims his pictures have an emotional depth (Aperture, 2003), any emotion that is expressed by the girl is overwhelmed by the melodramatic and intrusive nature of his constructions.
Figure 18: Untitled 35 Lux in contrast fuses the real and imaginary in a way that undermines the
false dichotomy between the two. The real is made up of the imaginary and the imaginary has elements of the real. Religion and the history of art is built on this premise, as are pychoanalytic theories of dreams, the Uncanny and the unconscious (Freud, 2006). Even highly real things like the invasion of Iraq resulted from a confusion between real and imaginary Weapons of Mass Destruction.
The imagined conflict between the real and imaginary is something that Lux uses to full effect in her pictures. She understands that two apparently opposing elements can sit together in a picture and simultaneously reinforce and undermine each other. When we see that Emily shows signs of being both an Innocent Child and a Knowing Child, the picture presents a puzzle to us. We want a simple answer where black is black and white is white. However, as Fletcher (and Cixous before her) points out things arenâ€™t that simple either in photography or life (Fletcher, 1998) - there are shades of grey and this is where Emily sits, happily straddling the middle ground between the overlapping categories of Innocent/Knowing, Child/Adult and Asexual/Sexual being. It is a strategy repeatedly used in photography and art, especially where the representation of children is concerned. Francis Cotes did it with Lewis Cage, presenting him as an child in an externally
sexualised body, Dodgson does the same in The Beggar Maid where Alice Liddell is transformed by title, costume and look to become the ultimate Upper Class/Working Class, Unavailable/Available, Pure/Sullied, Innocent/Knowing Child. The most direct example of this portrayal of contradictory elements is Rineke Dijkstraâ€™s Hilton Head portrait where the girl in the apricot bikini is portrayed on the cusp of two worlds and, most interestingly, is shown knowing she is on the cusp of two worlds.
The Rose Garden is both real and imaginary. It exploits the false (imaginary) division between the Innocent and the Knowing child and the associated dichotomies mentioned above, divisions that are typical of the binary thought that Cixous believes typifies Western cultural thought (Cixous, 1996). Lux befuddles us by forcing us to make choices between values that linguistically and culturally seem to be opposed, but in both the real worlds which children inhabit and the imaginary worlds of their (and our) unconscious are not opposed at all.
This juxtaposition of values is aided by digital manipulation - the placing of Emily against the garden background brings out elements of the romantic, the sexual and creates both divisions and connections between the worlds of
the adult and the child. This manipulation doesn’t compromise the authenticity of the image though or childhood world that Emily inhabits. In a sentiment that predated postmodernism by around 100 years, Oscar Wilde said that “Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not the sitter” (Wilde, 2006). A similar thing could be said about photography where the more skilful the photographer, the more manipulated the image becomes and the less is left to chance or the whimsy of the sitter. However, despite the manipulated composition, costume and pose, Lux does leave things outside her control. Like Dodgson, Dijkstra and Mann, she leaves a gap for her subject, Emily to fill. The image has been manipulated, but Emily hasn’t. The Rose Garden is both beautiful and disturbing, a picture that combines the real and imaginary and presents a vision of a childhood we all once inhabited and we all still inhabit, a vision of childhood that is as real and imaginary as it gets.
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