Public Moments: Zoltán Jókay

This post was delayed almost two years because, at the time I discovered this artist and began to put his material together, WordPress rather perfunctorily shut this site down. Therefore, this post represents the final phase of my psychological recovery from that episode.

Zoltán Jókay - Remembering #6 (c1990)

Zoltán Jókay – Remembering #6 (c1990)

Zoltán Jókay - Growing Up #6 (c2000)

Zoltán Jókay – Growing Up #6 (c2000)

Zoltán Jókay was born of Hungarian parents in Munich in 1960. In 1984 he studied communication design at the University in Essen and got his diploma in 1993. He has since received a number of grants and prizes for artistic photography.

Zoltán Jókay - Remembering #4 (c1990)

Zoltán Jókay – Remembering #4 (c1990)

Zoltán Jókay - Growing Up #11 (c2000)

Zoltán Jókay – Growing Up #11 (c2000)

His work focuses on the aesthetic documentation of young people in public places. He does not shoot his subjects as a documentarian attempting to detach himself from events and letting the viewer make his own judgments. Instead, he seems to have a genuine liking for his subjects and conveys his feelings to us through his work. Though these images are public, they are also intimate, demonstrating the level of trust needed to capture these “moments of grace”, as one critic put it. Jókay acknowledges the full scope of participatory art and says that his work is comprised of three authors: himself, those being photographed and the viewer. So he is actively inviting us into the process as well, like some kind of psychic matchmaker.

Zoltán Jókay - Remembering #10 (c1990)

Zoltán Jókay – Remembering #10 (c1990)

Zoltán Jókay - Growing Up #19 (c2000)

Zoltán Jókay – Growing Up #19 (c2000)

It is easy, when one does not consider the skill behind it to just dismiss these images as merely pleasant. But these images could not have been captured without a preexisting trust. I am reminded of the way Jock Sturges operates: he observes his environment until he notices a moment of sublime beauty and then tries to capture it. It may seem odd to compare these two artists because of the startling impact of Sturges’ nudes, but as far as method is concerned, they are sympathetic brothers under the skin. The shots are posed and yet they are also quite natural—not hiding personalities behind awkward body language. To accentuate Jókay’s feeling for these young people, he uses muted—even unfocused—backgrounds and is careful not to have any distracting stark elements in the image like sharp shadows or solid blue patches of sky.

Zoltán Jókay - Growing Up #13 (c2000)

Zoltán Jókay – Growing Up #13 (c2000)

Zoltán Jókay - Growing Up #17 (c2000)

Zoltán Jókay – Growing Up #17 (c2000)

Two series are of interest for this site: “Growing Up” and “Remembering”. Fran Lebowitz says that artists who deal exclusively with youthful subjects can only get worse over time (she was using F. Scott Fitzgerald as an example). Although this does not bode well for Pigtails in Paint as an artistic enterprise, I think it is essentially true. Sally Mann, Polixeni Papapetrou and Pere Formiguera are three artists that come immediately to mind who—in their personal development—went on to explore the subjects of aging and death. Jókay has done something similar and has progressed to an examination of the psychological states of illness in his work, especially that of dementia. You can see more from these two series and other projects on his website here.

Invitation to the Bath: Rita Martin

In the early days of photography, a sure way to fame would be to: shoot important sitters and have them exhibited at important venues or have your work consistently reproduced on postcards. Many, like Reutlinger, did both but the child studies of Rita Martin are perhaps the most charming in existence. With a somewhat common name like this, it was difficult to find correct biographical information until an associate who is an avid collector provided it and most of the scans for this post. I want to thank WCL for his contribution and hope to see more of his collection on Pigtails in the future.

Both Margareta “Rita” Martin (1875-1958) and her elder sister Lallie Charles recognized the commercial potential of photography after being employed by Alice Hughes. In the London of the 1890s, Hughes was the leading society photographer and at its height, had a large staff of exclusively women running her operation. When Charles decided to open her own studio in 1897, Martin joined her to help. She opened her own studio in 1906 following the Hughes formula: photographing subjects in pale colors against a pure white background and avoiding men and boys over a certain age. It was Hughes’ contention that men’s apparel was unattractive and not visually engaging to photograph. Martin focused her efforts on actresses such as Lily Elsie and Lily Brayton and child studies—particularly of Gladys Cooper’s two children. However, her most reproduced child studies were of the Luke children—whose father, a carpenter, was responsible for building her second studio. Martin‭ ‬had photographed royalty including Queen Elizabeth as well as the current Queen Mother as a child. Martin’s and Charles’ few surviving negatives were presented to the National Portrait Gallery by their niece Lallie Charles Martin in 1994.

Even Martin’s “conventional” child portraits were distinctive as she took pains to include the subject’s hands creating a somewhat bashful appearance. A couple of these images were published in Graham Ovenden’s Victorian Children.

Rita Martin - (untitled) (c1910) (1)

Rita Martin – (untitled) (c1910) (1)

Martin’s child subjects were usually accompanied by some kind of prop like a sofa,‭ ‬bathtub‭ ‬or other whimsical scene.‭ Consistent with Victorian attitudes about the innocence of children, they were shot in various ‬stages of undress. The artist usually refrained from giving her work titles as postcard producers would likely attach their own phrases to punch up their appeal anyway. Many images saw multiple releases in various forms—including some colorized and some in sepia—making dating difficult. The first postcards featured are of the same girl model preparing for and taking a bath. There are several that belong to this series. ‭The first is a colorized version and has the title “Why Don’t They Bring My Frock?”‭

Rita Martin - (untitled) (c1910) (2)

Rita Martin – (untitled) (c1910) (2)

‭In the next two images, the sponge seems to make the scenes more sensuous. The first has seen many titles including “Oh! It’s Cold”, “The Order of the Bath” and “A Sponge Down”.‭

Rita Martin - (untitled) (c1910) (3)

Rita Martin – (untitled) (c1910) (3)

‭This image has the title “A Cooler”.‭

Rita Martin - (untitled) (c1910) (4)

Rita Martin – (untitled) (c1910) (4)

This postcard features two lovely girls,‭ ‬in minimal dress under an umbrella.‭ ‬The quote at the bottom states,‭ “‬Let’s go back dear,‭ ‬there’s a man‭”‬.

Rita Martin - (untitled) (c1910) (5)

Rita Martin – (untitled) (c1910) (5)

This lovely girl stands behind a set of bars with a well-placed bouquet.‭ ‬The first has the title ‭“‬Behind the Screen‭” and the sec‬ond is titled simply “Shy”. Martin’s work even caught the attention of postcard makers in Germany and these two were printed in Berlin.‭

Rita Martin - (untitled) (c1910) (6)

Rita Martin – (untitled) (c1910) (6)

Rita Martin - (untitled) (c1910) (7)

Rita Martin – (untitled) (c1910) (7)

One of WCL’s favorites is entitled‭ “‬Back Numbers‭” fea‬turing three bare butt children sitting together on a railing from behind.‭ ‬This one features a rare appearance by a boy and has a 1914‭ postmark from ‬a French address.

Rita Martin - (untitled) (c1910) (8)

Rita Martin – (untitled) (c1910) (8)

“Everybody Loves Me,‭ ‬I’m the Baby‭” ‬is the title of this postcard and it has a companion called ‭“‬Nobody Loves Me‭” (not shown here)‬.‭

Rita Martin - (untitled) (c1910) (9)

Rita Martin – (untitled) (c1910) (9)

Here two darling girls embrace for a heavenly pose.‭ ‬The postcard features a quote from Pollock, “Living jewels dropp’d unstained from Heaven” and ‭“‬jewels‭” were ‬added for effect.

Rita Martin - (untitled) (c1910) (10)

Rita Martin – (untitled) (c1910) (10)

Or the quote can be a light-hearted greeting as in this birthday card.

Rita Martin - (untitled) (c1910) (11)

Rita Martin – (untitled) (c1910) (11)

Finally there is‭ “‬Babes in the Wood‭”‬,‭ with a ‬1907‭ postmark ‬from a French address.‭ ‬These seem to be the same two models from the earlier umbrella shot.‭‭

Rita Martin - (untitled) (c1910) (12)

Rita Martin – (untitled) (c1910) (12)

WCL is always adding to his collection, so if you have anything interesting you would like to share, you can reach him through this site.

The models are supposedly the children of famous people (or of the Luke family), but they are not specifically identified on each of these images. It would be appreciated if someone—especially in the vicinity of the National Portrait Gallery in London—could offer more information. For those who have not attempted visiting an archive before, an appointment is usually necessary to examine the relevant materials. In this case, small sets can be retrieved in advance focusing on specific models. The photographs at NPG are stored together according to sitter—not artist—which suggests that at least the names of the models might be known. I have also been informed that they have a box filled with many photocopies of magazine pages where Martin’s work was published. Anyone interested in doing a little leg work can contact this site and get specific contact information to get started.

Breaking the Ice: Michael Otto

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to purchase some photographs that were part of a reserve used for publication in naturist magazines in the 1980s. Properly, naturist photography is classified as photojournalism and not art. But because of the subject matter, oftentimes an image strikes a chord—accidental art, if you will. I noticed some photographers seem to have a knack for capturing the charm of childhood and I was introduced for the first time to names like Leif Heilberg, Iris Bancroft and Michael Otto.

Michael Otto - (untitled) (1982) (1)

Michael Otto – (untitled) (1982) (1)

Later, when researching Lotte Herrlich (post forthcoming) for this site, I found a short biography (in German) written by Michael Otto and was delighted to discover an account of his childhood and how he became a naturist. Except for those born into that culture, I think many of us are curious how one becomes interested and then involved in such a group. The most uplifting thing about Otto’s story is that it is so playful which I think captures the true spirit of the practice. And by coincidence, I happened to be reading Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul by Stuart Brown, MD and Christopher Vaughan which helped frame in my mind the sincere intent of these people.

Michael Otto - (untitled) (1982) (2)

Michael Otto – (untitled) (1982) (2)

Michael Otto was born in 1959 in Hamburg, Germany. Before telling his tale, he advises the reader that there is no single path to nudism and each person must find his own way and have a genuine desire to be naked with no ulterior sexual motives. Some people seem to need a little nudge, but that is easy once they see how beautiful and pleasant nudity can be.

Michael Otto - (untitled) (c1985) (1)

Michael Otto – (untitled) (c1985) (1)

He remembers taking an interest in being naked and in being around other naked people in 1969 (at age 10). At that time, there was no internet, so a child’s routine was typically school then homework then outside to play. He, his best friend and the other neighborhood boys would usually play soccer, but when girls were around, they had to play something else. A favorite pastime was “Spin the Bottle” and, in the beginning, the rules seemed harmless enough. If the bottleneck pointed to someone, that person would have to do a somersault or a handstand or some other benign “dare”. However, at some point, the girls came up with the idea that the person would have to take off an article of clothing. In due course, some player would end up completely naked and then what? They decided the way to raise the stakes would be to have him/her run naked at least 25 meters down the street and back again. The girls were very resourceful, dressing as though it were the dead of winter so the boys were usually naked early in the game and the girls arguing about whether a particular article of clothing counted as one or two garments. Nevertheless, the girls would sometimes reach the point of being completely naked and have to run down the street. Otto felt it was a nice feeling to be naked and to be naked with other children. In a more extreme version of the game, a kid would end up completely naked and have to ride his/her bike around an entire city block! However, given the speed at which they rode their bikes, it seemed that no one had ever noticed and as far as everyone knew, they were just a bunch of well-behaved children. For some, even this escalation was too easy so more innovative and forbidden dares had to be concocted.

Michael Otto - (untitled) (c1985) (2)

Michael Otto – (untitled) (c1985) (2)

The problem for Otto was that since he enjoyed these activities with the other children, he wondered what it all meant and who he could talk to about it—surely not his parents, siblings or teachers. Therefore, this secret pleasure had to stay hidden from others for the time being. The family had a large backyard garden but the neighbor’s was better because it had the advantage of being much larger, L-shaped and included a small shed at the end which could afford some cover. He could enter the garden by climbing the fence, but none of the adults would do that so there would be plenty of warning if someone entered the garden through the gate at the other end. At first, these excursions into the garden naked were an adventure, but after a while, it was boring just wandering the same patch of garden by himself. At some point, the family had to move and the new situation did not allow for any further excursions.

Michael Otto - (untitled) (c1985) (3)

Michael Otto – (untitled) (c1985) (3)

Michael Otto - (untitled) (c1985) (4)

Michael Otto – (untitled) (c1985) (4)

Michael Otto - (untitled) (c1985) (5)

Michael Otto – (untitled) (c1985) (5)

During that time, he had heard of nudism, nudist clubs and nude bathing beaches, but they were unavailable to a child because they were too far away and he would have to ask his parents or siblings, who certainly had more important things to deal with. He realized it would be years before he could fulfill his dream of being naked openly. At age 17, he took an interest in photography and his first camera was a Yashica. After completing school and studying for a profession, he served a short tour in the German Army (Bundeswehr) in 1981. In the course of his training and assignments, he became comfortable and familiar with the city life of Neumünster. It was there that he had another memorable experience with nudity.

One of Otto’s training exercises took him and a small group to the Cologne (Köln) area. The exercise included a three-day endurance and orientation march. They disembarked and after reviewing the proper use of the compass, they set out in the direction of their base camp. It was a warm summer and they were carrying a full backpack and military equipment which weighed much more than they do today. After a few hours, they reached the site, drenched from their profuse sweat and convinced—had there been any real enemy—that their odor would have signaled their presence for miles. After setting up their camp situated near a cool mountain creek, they wasted no time and jumped fully-clothed into the chilly water. Then there was the problem of drying out the uniforms, so they took them off and waited patiently for them to dry stark naked. These were his first hours spent in nature naked and all the men seemed to enjoy the experience—getting into their sleeping bags naked and even performing their guard duty shifts in the buff! It may have seemed silly, but his was the only group that returned without an offending cloud of stench from wearing their uniforms for three days.

After returning to Neumünster, he could not find any nude clubs in the area and he managed as best he could to get a hold of naturist magazines. He decided to go out and find a suitable forest to roam in. He finally found one just north of Einfelder Lake—now a built up area—and screwed up the courage to take off his clothes and explore like a naturist. He visited there many times since. After completing his military service, he returned to Hamburg. There, he could socialize with a consistent group of people he knew and who knew him. He planned a couple nudist vacations (Cap d’Agde in France and Rovinj in Yugoslavia), but as a one-time guest, it was difficult to take full advantage of the social life there. It took him a little while to realize it, but his friends, his “family” in Hamburg were a legitimate naturist group and he had achieved his dream.

Michael Otto - (untitled) (1985) (1)

Michael Otto – (untitled) (1985) (1)

Naturally, he wanted to document this happy time and these wonderful people and thought with his experience as a photojournalist, he could bring his two hobbies together while legitimizing the group to the naturist media. He assumed he would be taking pictures of his adult friends but, as strange as it may seem in today’s political climate, they were reluctant to be photographed and offered their children as subjects instead. It’s really logical if you think about it; children exemplify the free spirit of naturism and parents would be more than happy to have someone capture these treasured memories of their beautiful children. Once Otto got established as the group’s photographer however, adults did begin to participate. Familiar with the nudist (FKK-Freikörperkultur) magazines of the time, he offered some selections for publication and got to see his pictures in print. And today he is still friends with his former models and their parents.

Michael Otto - (untitled) (c1985) (6)

Michael Otto – (untitled) (c1985) (6)

Michael Otto - (untitled) (c1985) (7)

Michael Otto – (untitled) (c1985) (7)

Michael Otto - (untitled) (1982) (3)

Michael Otto – (untitled) (1982) (3)

I am always concerned that with Pigtails’ focus on girls, that readers understand that many of the artists we cover also shot boys and so I include one of Otto’s here.

Michael Otto - (untitled) (1985) (2)

Michael Otto – (untitled) (1985) (2)

There is a lot more to be said about the distinctions between naturist photojournalism and studio “art” photography, but that will have to wait for another time.

…Like a Girl: Lauren Greenfield

A reader just informed me of a video recently posted on YouTube. It is an advertisement in the form of a casting call asking women and girls what it means to do things “like a girl”. The video is part of a new campaign by Always, a feminine-hygiene brand of Proctor & Gamble, with the premise of boosting adolescent girls’ self-confidence. As in practically all advertising, there is no shortage of hyperbolic bravado.

“We’re kicking off an epic battle to make sure that girls everywhere keep their confidence throughout puberty and beyond…”

To give the video a feel of genuine documentary, the company hired Lauren Greenfield with a track record of films focusing on the realities and tragedies of growing up in “the shadow of Hollywood” such as girls lamenting that they are not yet old enough to get cosmetic surgery—legal with parental consent at age 15. It is true that Greenfield has witnessed one of the most destructive forms of peer pressure revolving around money but, true to form, savvy advertisers focus on a superficial catch phrase and use it to create the impression that their client is a good corporate citizen. The catch phrase is neither the real problem nor the key to a real solution.

First, we see some adults act out actions like “run like a girl”, “throw like a girl”, “fight like a girl”, etc. to illustrate the stereotype and then young girls are brought in—presumably not yet affected by the stereotype—to show that doing it like a girl just means doing their best. The first girl shown is Dakota (age 10) and is followed with cuts of many others. The unfortunate thing about commercial advertisements is that they are not required to credit the actors like they do in other films, so nothing is really known about the girls.

Lauren Greenfield - Always LikeAGirl (2014) (1)

Lauren Greenfield – Always LikeAGirl (2014) (1)

Lauren Greenfield - Always LikeAGirl (2014) (2)

Lauren Greenfield – Always LikeAGirl (2014) (2)

Lauren Greenfield - Always LikeAGirl (2014) (3)

Lauren Greenfield – Always LikeAGirl (2014) (3)

As I reminded readers in ‘The Publicity Dilemma’, corporations are mandated to make the maximum profit possible and whenever they engage in public goodwill campaigns, there is necessarily (and legally) a less noble agenda behind it. Sometimes, it is just a short-term PR effort to compensate for some bad press the company may have received. But in this and many other cases, the company conducts an ongoing effort to foster an image of genuine concern over a specific demographic meant to enhance customer loyalty. As explained in ‘State of the Art Exploitation’, the younger the better and so we see a subtle attempt here to target girls who are not yet ready to use their products.

It is also something of an insult to girls’ intelligence that—at the “tender” age of ten—they do not already understand this stereotype or would be emotionally affected by it if it weren’t for the meanness at which it was hurled at them. It is still commonplace for marketers—with varying degrees of subtlety—to treat girls and women condescendingly. A strong illustration of this can be seen in ‘The Tyranny of Cheerfulness’.

In their campaign, Always encourages girls to offer their feedback and we can expect them not to heed or post any dissenting opinions. Therefore, in the interest of fairness, I invite girls and women to use Pigtails in Paint as a venue for expressing their disdain for such a cynical campaign. Be advised that I, too, have editorial control and will not allow this site to become a hate fest!

Comparative Anatomy: Will McBride and Helga Fleischhauer-Hardt

Since Pigtails in Paint is an important venue for the healthy expression of child nudity, it makes sense that we should deal with the subject of sex education. This can take serious forms as in proper (and perhaps institutionalized) sex education or in a more humorous form as children explore changes and differences in sexuality in their culture. I thought it appropriate that this work should be a launching point for this topic—in this case a serious example but not oppressively so. In many sexually-repressed societies (and we have to count the modern West among them), any begrudging acknowledgement of the need to educate young people typically takes the form of dull and clinical coverage or is authoritative and fear-based and, in both cases, offers a cartoonish approach to the facts of gross surface anatomy. The legitimacy of a serious approach, though, should not exclude more humorous and light-hearted portrayals. As creatures born with instinctive sexual proclivities that develop over time and rational minds trying desperately to cope with this reality, there is plenty of fodder for humor that does not necessarily imply shame. There is an inherent awkwardness when children compare the superficial differences between boys and girls or between children and adults or watching inexperienced lovers fumble around as they figure things out. In a healthy context, these can be a source of gentle amusement for those more experienced. Therefore, readers will begin to see examples of “comparative anatomy” appear on this site.

In the West, the Sexual Revolution went hand in hand with an acceptance of nudity and it makes sense that probably the most definitive text on sex education for children should appear during this time. Will McBride courageously and sensitively provided the photographs that appeared in that book, Show Me! (German: Zeig Mal!) published in 1975. The book was a collaboration between McBride and Helga Fleischhauer-Hardt, a psychiatrist, who provided an essential context for how the book should be used. The English adaptation is by Hilary Davies.

The temptation, since we are such visual creatures, is to skim through the images and get an impression from that, but the introduction provides an important framing for the unconventional approach this book takes.

“We have made this book for children and parents. In their hands, it can be an aid to sexual enlightenment. But above all, we hope it will show parents that natural sexuality develops only when children are surrounded from birth onwards by a loving family and environment which does not repress sexuality. We don’t believe a child will have “found the answer” to sex simply by looking at the pictures in this book. A good understanding requires rather a continuing exchange between parent and child, a dialog which helps the child express his questions and problems concerning sex and resolve them. The photographic part of this book is meant as a taking-off point for parents…We hope this book will serve parents and children as a source of information and guide them toward a happy sexuality marked by love, tenderness, and responsibility.”

Will McBride - from Show Me! (1973) (1)

Will McBride – from Show Me! (1973) (1)

Will McBride - from Show Me! (1973) (2)

Will McBride – from Show Me! (1973) (2)

Traditional sex education can be clinical and dry and so Fleischhauer-Hardt urges the target reader (the parents) to use simple words in the descriptions of conception, pregnancy and anatomical facts and some suggestions are offered at the end of the book. The philosophy behind producing this book is that only an explicit and realistic presentation of sex can spare children fear and guilt related to sexuality which is why photography was chosen as the visual medium. It was also hoped that the children’s reactions to the material would be spontaneous and would give the readers a realistic idea of how their own children might react. The most obvious obstacle to this is the peculiarities of culture and I did notice the book expresses an almost blind acceptance of the validity of Freudian theory. The explanatory text offers further clues to how young children might perceive this book.

“Children who have grown up in a free and unconstrained atmosphere react positively to the photographs. They show interest and ask questions. Even children of preschool age react in this way. A child only accepts what he or she can comprehend, in any case, and this depends on the stage of development. In no way can looking at the pictures damage a child, even if he or she does not yet understand them. Children see many other things in their surroundings which they cannot understand.”

Will McBride - from Show Me! (1973) (3)

Will McBride – from Show Me! (1973) (3)

It should be understood that this book is to be used for very young children, not children already dealing with the arena of adult sexuality. The irony is that many young children using this book will have more experience with the facts of anatomy than teenagers whose parents felt it necessary to shelter them. Fleischhauer-Hardt makes the point many times that a child’s response to the book is a function of the parents’ attitudes. If a child has a healthy attitude about the human body, he will not find the pictures too strong for him; but an inhibited child may at first react with hostility. In this case, the concern is to not to introduce any new repressions but to encourage the child to express his feeling and work through them. It is best to go through the book gradually to allow the child the assimilate the images and gain confidence in the material. Sexuality is not an all-or-nothing proposition. As we develop, various aspects of our own sexuality come into play. Even a fetus in the womb is not a completely asexual being and I was pleased to see the suggestion that, “Sex education, like all education, should begin in infancy, within the family.” and be an ongoing endeavor throughout development.

I think Fleischhauer-Hardt is being somewhat diplomatic when she says that sex instruction given in many schools in extremely valuable, but she is right in pointing out that its effectiveness is overestimated. Her argument is that many children, by school age, are already encumbered with prejudices and misconceptions as a result of a repressive attitude to sex in their home and environment. Contemptuous expressions used by a six-year-old boy about the opposite sex can only have come from the adults in his life and then get reinforced by peer groups later on. A child who has never been allowed to see his parents and siblings naked will almost certainly find nudity shocking. And as far as concerns over hygiene, a child need not be instilled with the idea that bodily excretions are dirty or repulsive; psychiatrists believe a child will learn clean and hygienic habits by example without their excretory functions becoming taboo. She proposes a nurturant attitude from birth and one of the implied goals is that children will grow up able to enjoy sex more fully, a purpose indicative of the notions of the Sexual Revolution. For some reason, we all have largely forgotten a lot about our sexual experiences growing up and so the book was meant to help parents be well-informed about the sexual development of their own children which is not always intuitive.

The book has stirred controversy not merely because of its frank photographic illustrations, but in its attitudes regarding a proper sex education. In that respect, I think some of the hostile reaction has been due to an innate fear that this might be regarded as a kind of standard and Fleischhauer-Hardt seems to recognize, despite her own expert opinion, that this book may not be for everyone, but for those ready to take on the challenge of learning a better way.

“This book is aimed at open-minded people who are prepared to rethink and perhaps even question their own attitude to human sexuality. The book came about as a result of my experience that many parents are not sufficiently informed about sexual matters to understand the sexual development of their children correctly. In many cases, they are not even thoroughly informed or aware of their own sexuality, because everything to do with sex was suppressed in their own upbringing.”

It was hoped this book would do justice to the sexual needs of children and adolescents. Will McBride’s photos were meant to portray sexual behavior appropriate to each level of development from birth to adulthood. There is an obvious bias here, because the idea was to show most of the “usual forms of sexual activity”. But if, as experts say, a large portion of the population is sexually repressed, how much evidence is there for the normal range of healthy sexual expression in which to base this book? Nevertheless, children and adolescents may at least get some graphic introduction to the sights and activities they may see and practice in later life.

In addition to the introduction and explanatory text, the body of the book centers on the dialog between a little boy and a little girl with interjections from family members. As explained before, the idea was to capture the spontaneous responses of these children, but I have to wonder how much of this was natural and how much was primed by their particular upbringing. Arguments about Freudian theory aside, the book does boldly discuss basic terms like: belly button, penis, vagina (and the fact that it is an interior organ), pregnancy, breasts, nursing, circumcision, pee, poop, vulva, labia, clitoris, masturbation, erection, pubic hair, orgasm (male and female), semen and making love including the conventional adult use of the penis and vagina. On the psychological side, it deals with issues of: jealousy over a new baby, thumb sucking, the pleasures of masturbation, breast variation among girls, physical development of adult characteristics, the awkwardness of lovemaking and the odd rituals associated with it, anxieties of giving birth, the shock a baby experiences entering the world and gender roles and identity (including the Oedipus Complex). To the book’s credit, the children did not just go with the flow and sometimes declared how silly or tiresome it was to look at all these naked people and shock at how heterosexual intercourse is conducted!

Will McBride - from Show Me! (1973) (4)

Will McBride – from Show Me! (1973) (4)

Will McBride was born in St.Louis, Missouri in 1931. It had not occurred to me until now how apt the English title to the book was as Missouri is known as the “Show Me State”! His parents and teachers noticed at a very early age that he was talented at drawing. He was 11 years old when he began Saturday morning classes at the Art Institute of Chicago. He made life drawings from nude models and collected and studied anatomy books. When his family moved to Detroit, he attended the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts, made detailed charcoal drawings of nude models and already knew he would be an artist at age 14. He graduated from high school in 1947 then studied at the University of Vermont when he had the opportunity to meet Norman Rockwell. After Rockwell looked at his male nude studies, he knew McBride was a real artist and was invited to learn painting and illustration under his tutelage in the summer of 1950. Rockwell remained his most important influence the rest of his life. He continued his studies at various institutions until 1953, when he joined the U.S. Army. That was when he got his first taste of Germany and after completing two years of service, he continued his studies in Berlin—taking an interest in photojournalism. He was married in 1959 and had three sons. He lived all over Germany, putting together photo essays for various publications and teaching photojournalism. He had his first one man show in 1972 in Munich and moved to Italy for a time to resume his efforts in sculpting and painting. In 1983, he returned to Germany—exhibiting his work in various media. In 1995, he began his “NO WAR!” monument—an enormous installation of sculptures and paintings. He had shows in Frankfurt and Camaiore (in Tuscany), but this is an ongoing work in progress to this day.

Will McBride - Tom Boy Girl with Apple, Munich  (1966)

Will McBride – Tom Boy Girl with Apple, Munich (1966)

His philosophy illustrates the sensitivity and purposefulness of his work and even in the seemingly documentary medium of photography, his work has a strong feeling of conscious deliberation.

“A Photographer has only one thing to give to his photography. His whole being. The photographs should be the result of this involvement with the life around him…A photographer, in order to give his utmost , must be able to recognize his own being by the study of it, making constant note of the growth or regression of his being…The responsibility to the public should be even greater than the means of conveying the photograph to the public…For me, the true meaning of photography or the fundamental endeavor of the photographer is to notice, measure, relate the visual evidence of the changes of the development or the destruction (whichever you prefer) of the life and society going on…and as such is autobiographical.”

When the public hype over Show Me! began, it was not the first time McBride had sparked controversy. In 1960, Twen magazine provoked a scandal when they published portraits of his pregnant wife Barbara. Nor was Show Me! the first time he photographed nude children. He was invited to provide photographic examples to illustrate a book called The Sex Book: A Modern Pictorial Encyclopedia published by Herder and Herder, Inc. in 1971 with text by Martin Goldstein MD and Erwin J. Haeberle PhD.

Will McBride - from The Sex Book (1971)

Will McBride – from The Sex Book (1971)

While many parents appreciated Show Me! for its frank depiction of pre-adolescents discovering and exploring their sexuality, the knee-jerk response of others was heated. In 1975 and 1976, charges were brought against the publisher (St. Martin’s Press) by prosecutors in several states. Legally speaking, the book could not be banned for pornographic content but charges were leveled over the issue of obscenity and applicable laws. Starting in 1977, some states began to criminalize the distribution of even non-obscene material arguing that such “images of abuse” were not protected by the First Amendment. Despite the passing of a law in the publisher’s home state of New York, an injunction against the State was successful because the courts believed the First Amendment could only apply to obscene material. The 1982 U.S. Supreme Court decision, New York v. Ferber, allowed the government to constitutionally ban the knowing distribution of even non-obscene “child pornography”. St. Martin’s Press rightly argued that even though Show Me! was demonstrably not pornographic, they could not afford the legal expense to defend it, their own personnel or vendors who distributed the book and so no further editions were produced.

During the media debate, the 13-year-old daughter of a Chicago Tribune reviewer Carol Kleiman commented, “…The book is good for little kids because they don’t know what society terms ‘dirty’ yet. You know, Mom, it’s parents I’m worried about. They’re not ready yet.”  It would be fascinating to learn what the children who participated in this book think today.

I was surprised to find there was an attempt to make a documentary about the history and controversy over the book. It has been five years since this trailer was posted and it is clear that production was canceled without a trace. Even this video gives you an idea of the range of reactions over the book even today.

I want to thank one of our readers, Michael, for painstakingly transcribing his copy of the book and carefully selecting those images that would illustrate its contents without exposing Pigtails in Paint to legal complications. I did get a pretty thorough description of the images that were included though. Naturally, as a sex education book, more detailed images of genitalia were present but even though they are appropriate in this context, it is not the purview of this site to show them to the general public. I will deal with this issue in more detail later in an essay about the intricacies of public and private displays of intimate subjects.  Exact transcriptions of key parts of the book can be found here.

Community of Practice

I lieu of the usual Maiden Voyages post (July 2014), I am finally completing my intended post regarding my dream of having Pigtails in Paint facilitate a Community of Practice. This term was introduced to me by one of our readers with an academic background and I realized that it was not only something that is needed, but that many valuable fields of inquiry began that way and eventually were recognized as legitimate disciplines. I think readers have noticed that I take a somewhat analytical approach to things and that even though the appreciation of young girls may seem in public discourse a shallow endeavor, I am discovering it is a kind of cornerstone to the understanding of human existence. The fact that it is regarded with suspicion by many is an indication of the ills of Western society and its propagation to other societies under the modern global paradigm. I have thought deeply about this for a while and am convinced that both extreme obsessive or extreme paranoid behaviors are just expressions of the stress and poverty that promote the mistreatment of girls and women. My words are a plea for a humanist approach to the subject and a compassionate acceptance of the foibles of human beings.

Before beginning the essay, I would like to get some monthly announcements out of the way.  I got reports of a couple of interesting museum exhibitions focusing on childhood.  I did not have time to dig into the details, so if you are in the area, maybe you can take a look and even report back anything of interest to Pigtails.  One is at the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo called Go-Betweens: The World Seen Through Children and will be exhibiting until August 31st.  The other is at the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg, Florida called Collection Conversations: Childhood and will be exhibiting through September.

I am pleased to have finally completed the Aurelija Čepulinskaitė post. This took years of research that started even before I started working on Pigtails. I was dismayed that no one has bothered to make a comment about this important artist. Anyway, I kept my promise and it is finally posted. I am researching a number of artists and I have to do more digging to do proper posts. As I mentioned before, I am working with Michael Otto about his eighty years of experience with naturist photography and I am trying to track down family members and institutions that have more complete biographical information and artwork on American artists. Lately, I have started to make a little headway with Charles DuBois Hodges, Christine Mackey and Claire Henze.

I would like to remind fans that work on Pigtails in Paint is all volunteer, so some of these ideas are not meant to be implemented immediately, but when we can get to it. The more readers who make an effort to participate, the more we can offer. This should be a community and this site can hopefully provide a stable resource and sounding board.

First of all, I want to once again thank BIO-dex Consulting ( for hosting our site and understanding our unusual needs in this hysterical political climate. Recently, more pages were added to the site and I intend to add more to help round out the picture of what we’re about. For one thing, it is important that readers know what is in the works. We often get suggestions about artists to cover and that is fine, but many times we get leads we already have but just haven’t gotten to. It is my idea to have a ‘Pipeline’ page so that readers can see what is coming down the line so if there’s something we missed, they can let us know. On the other hand, one thing that can stop us from completing a decent post is lack of information. We may be aware of the work of an artist but not have access to the right images (or images of sufficient quality) to use here, so I expect to set up a ‘Wish List’ page so readers can know exactly what we still need.

With the kind of censorship that is commonplace nowadays, it is tough for someone new to find trustworthy sources of material if they are serious collectors. I’m not sure what form that can take so as not to compromise our integrity, but I would like to solicit suggestions. I simply would like to offer things that I wished were available a few years ago when I began to explore this genre. Another idea I had was a ‘Book Covers’ page. Many nude girl or erotic books can be found on conventional sales sites, but they usually can’t show you the cover. I detest the idea of each person having to start from square one just because of a taboo—especially in the age of internet. Until I figure out a more formal and proper way to handle it, please feel free to contact me if you are trying to find something on a particular artist. On the other hand, I would like to support artists that, because of the content they cover, are subject to hateful attacks. Artists should focus on their work and not need to be PR experts. At some point, I would like to offer ‘Official Fan Pages’ on this site so fans can get answers (FAQs) about artists and thoughtless or tasteless comments can be ignored and not serve as a distraction for the artist. I have always said that Pigtails will not facilitate the hate which is a hallmark of much anonymous commentary. I want this site to be safe for artists, girls and women who often find the internet a hostile place.

Mostly what Pigtails needs is more active participation of people who are skilled or knowledgeable about things. That is why I have been encouraging some of our commenters to write their own pieces. They bring a richer variety to the site and we still need a whole lot more. Specifically, I think it would be beneficial to have an expert on manga; Pip and I know almost nothing about this and yet it seems important that this artistic and social phenomenon be intelligently discussed. If you are less confident about your English, it may still be possible to do the research and have the notes ready for a good post. For starters, the ‘Image Research Library’ was started to let people know where the gaps are.

Your support can be more technical if you are not interested in editorial production. I have already started a tab of ‘Transcriptions’ and some are not in English. These need to be translated so that the information can be used to inform our readers. Pretty images are one thing, but it is frustrating when one can’t learn more from the accompanying text.  This is especially true with Japanese.  Maybe you have access to a book I don’t and would be willing to transcribe it and make it available. Maybe you happen to live near a library or museum that carries a rare book or document and you can find a way for us to get a look. For the more technically-minded perhaps there is a new software application that would enhance the readers’ experience or make our work in production easier. We already offer ‘RSS Feeds’ but there are always new developments and we need those who are savvy to let us know and help take advantage of it. Just being a watchdog can be tiring for one person. I noticed when restoring a number of Pip’s old posts that he got a lot of material from DeviantArt. There are many sites that have a lot of items of interest to Pigtails, but we don’t have the time or energy to keep a constant lookout. We could use some help to ‘Adopt-A-Site’ that can be frequently monitored should anything interesting turn up. This is especially needed with YouTube videos that get removed quickly due to copyright infringement and we should have a copy for future reference.  We could use more volunteers with legal assistance. Sure, we have a lawyer generously offering his services, but because of the different specialties, it is hard to cover all bases. Also, it is best to have a deeper bench in case one lawyer or paralegal happens to be busy with an important case.

I wouldn’t say that we are out of the woods yet, but Pigtails has been through a lot and survived. Despite the seeming superficiality of the subject, I keep pressing the idea that we are professional and thoughtful and that our work is important. Along those lines, it is my hope that this site should be formally recognized by academic and government institutions. With the knowledge we are gaining, we can help establish clearer understanding in the sciences, law enforcement, libraries and museums. Coordination between groups with a common goal can make possible the completion of difficult projects. For example, I hope to announce soon a joint effort to catalog antique postcards for easy reference of museums and collectors throughout the world. Of course, something like this will only be possible with the help of individuals who also believe in the project and make contributions of images and background information.

Finally, this site is an out-of-pocket expense and it makes sense that those who benefit should contribute financially to help keep things running. In principle, this makes sense but there are complications. First of all, until Pigtails in Paint has a consistent large community of people working on it, it is not practical to formally establish it as a non-profit organization which would entail a fair amount of bureaucracy. Therefore, my accountant informs me that I can accept donations. But for tax purposes, they would be considered part of my own business income and so donors would have to trust me personally. If a system can be worked to accept money from donors, I would like it understood how it would be prioritized: 1) To pay for hosting services to keep the site running, 2) To pay, as needed, specialists to perform services that cannot be done by any of the volunteers and then 3) To buy materials needed to complete a post but cannot be acquired by other means. Of course, I am open to suggestions if another scheme would be more appropriate. The other problem is my own anonymity. While there are still people out there willing—with a misplaced sense of righteousness—to disrupt my personal life, a way needs to be found of legally (in the U.S.) using an alias to receive funds that would only make my identity available to the proper authorities, but not the general public.

This article and all future revisions will be posted for future reference under the ‘Community’ tab on the top of the home page.

Now That’s True Blood: Morrigan Tales

I was a major collector of horror and dark fantasy comics in the early to late nineties, including an award-winning comics anthology called Taboo.  Edited by comics Renaissance Man Stephen R. Bissette, it was published sporadically.  This is because it was devoted to quality work and was never shorter than one hundred pages, so it took time to put together.  To give you an idea of the level of talent featured, the writing of Neil Gaiman, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Alan Moore and Mark Askwith and the art of Moebius, Charles Burns, S. Clay Wilson, Spain Rodriquez, Michael Zulli and Eddie Campbell all appear in a single issue, in this case issue #4.  Also in this issue is a strange little fantasy piece penned by Elaine Lee and illustrated by one of the very best fantasy artists of that or any time, the incomparable Charles Vess.

Vess has illustrated everything from mainstream comics series like The Amazing Spider-Man, Thor and Conan the Barbarian, to Neil Gaiman’s Alex, Mythopoeic and World Fantasy Award-winning fantasy miniseries Stardust (on which the film of the same name is based), to several books written by Charles de Lint, to an assortment of children’s books, including another book authored by Gaiman, Blueberry Girl (which, incidentally, was written for Gaiman’s goddaughter, the daughter of his good friend, singer Tori Amos).  I even possess an edition of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream that was illustrated by Vess.

The following piece, subtitled The Elemental, was originally the first installment of what was to be a much longer series by Lee and Vess, of which only a handful were ever completed.  The reasons for this are long and complicated, but it had a lot to do with timing, both in terms of the creators and of the comics industry itself, which experienced a major crisis in the late eighties and throughout the nineties.

What makes this piece special is not simply that it tackled some forbidden territory in a medium traditionally dominated by male adolescent and young adult fans of musclebound heroes and big-breasted beauties, it did it in a deeply symbolic and original way.  The central protagonist is a young child who must forge an identity for herself in a world saturated by old magic she doesn’t understand but must come to terms with.  The fact that she is nude through the entirety of the story was bad enough, but what really bothered readers who first encountered it in its first publication in 1982 was the mention of a normal bodily process the girl experiences at the story’s beginning: menstruation.  As Vess explains in the intro to the piece:

” ‘A young girl exhibiting a perfectly natural biological function caused more comment and protest than all the killings, rapes, and general brutality that its companion story, Sabre, showed as a matter of course,’ Charles recalls.  ‘For months afterwards oblique references to the story appeared in the letter columns of various comics magazines…from then on, we were “persona non grata” [at Eclipse].’ “

I think this demonstrates something fundamentally wrong with America’s attitudes about youth sexuality, particularly female youth sexuality.  Murder, torture and pain are acceptable to show—the more outrageous the better, in some people’s minds.  Women with abnormally huge tits are fine too, but something as normal as a young girl experiencing menstruation is too much reality for these same people.  Go figure.  The story also addresses budding sexuality, although more obliquely.  So here is Morrigan Tales.

Charles Vess - Morrigan Tales (1)

Charles Vess – Morrigan Tales (1982) (1)

Charles Vess - Morrigan Tales (2)

Charles Vess – Morrigan Tales (1982) (2)

Charles Vess - Morrigan Tales (3)

Charles Vess – Morrigan Tales (1982) (3)

Charles Vess - Morrigan Tales (4)

Charles Vess – Morrigan Tales (1982) (4)

Charles Vess - Morrigan Tales (5)

Charles Vess – Morrigan Tales (1982) (5)

Charles Vess - Morrigan Tales (6)

Charles Vess – Morrigan Tales (1982) (6)

Charles Vess - Morrigan Tales (7)

Charles Vess – Morrigan Tales (1982) (7)

Charles Vess - Morrigan Tales (8)

Charles Vess – Morrigan Tales (1982) (8)

Charles Vess - Morrigan Tales (9)

Charles Vess – Morrigan Tales (1982) (9)

Charles Vess - Morrigan Tales (10)

Charles Vess – Morrigan Tales (1982) (10)

Charles Vess - Morrigan Tales (11)

Charles Vess – Morrigan Tales (1982) (11)

Charles Vess - Morrigan Tales (12)

Charles Vess – Morrigan Tales (1982) (12)

Charles Vess - Morrigan Tales (13)

Charles Vess – Morrigan Tales (1982) (13)

Charles Vess - Morrigan Tales (14)

Charles Vess – Morrigan Tales (1982) (14)

Charles Vess - Morrigan Tales (15)

Charles Vess – Morrigan Tales (1982) (15)

Charles Vess - Morrigan Tales (16)

Charles Vess – Morrigan Tales (1982) (16)

Charles Vess - Morrigan Tales (17)

Charles Vess – Morrigan Tales (1982) (17)

Charles Vess - Morrigan Tales (18)

Charles Vess – Morrigan Tales (1982) (18)

Green Man Press (Charles Vess Official Site)

The Dance of Life and Love: Glen Keane’s ‘Duet’

I will be posting a comics story soon by the brilliant Charles Vess, but in the meantime I really had to share this.  It’s a short animated piece that brought me to tears the first time I saw it, and I knew it was perfect for Pigtails.  The piece is by legendary Disney animator Glen Keane, who helped animate and design some of the most iconic Disney characters of all time–from Ariel to Aladdin to Pocahontas to Tarzan, his artistic touch is unmistakable.  He retired from Disney a couple of years ago, having put in a respectable thirty seven years at the company, but he is still working on animation.  This short film, called Duet, was designed for Google’s Spotlight Stories series, and you can read more about it here, as well as see some stills from the film.  I don’t want to say too much about the film itself; just watch and enjoy it!

Glen Keane - Duet (2014)

Glen Keane – Duet (2014)

Glen Keane – Duet (2014)

A Glamorous Bath: Léopold-Emile Reutlinger

There are a lot of charming images of girls in bath scenes. Most are just the spontaneous records of parents, but in the Victorian and Edwardian eras, the cult of the child had a strong hold on the European psyche. So it stands to reason that many companies produced staged sentimental portraits of bathtime.

In my opinion, one of the most charming is a series produced by Atelier Reutlinger (Reutlinger Photography Studio) in Paris. When I first saw one of these on a sales site, I had no idea that they could fetch upwards of $50 each. I only managed to acquire one of the cheaper versions recently.

Léopold Reutlinger - (untitled) (c1905) (1)

Léopold Reutlinger – (untitled) (c1905) (1)

Although this particular series (of perhaps a dozen poses) was probably shot by Léopold-Emile Reutlinger (1863-1937) himself, he was actually the third to run the studio. It was founded by Charles Reutlinger in 1850 and through the quality of his work, leveraged his way into the hearts of rich and famous people including models, actors and dancers who would have been instantly recognized in public. There are some charming examples of children as well—perhaps close relatives of other sitters.

Charles Reutlinger - An Angel in Paris (c1880)

Charles Reutlinger – An Angel in Paris (c1880)

In 1880, Charles handed over control to his brother Emile and ten years later it was passed on to his son Léopold. Being raised in Peru, Léopold was eager for the opportunity to run such an important enterprise and he introduced a number of innovations which became the hallmark of the studio name. By this time, it was postcards that kept photography studios and photographers financially afloat, so he made the company’s cards distinctive with meticulous hand-tinting and incorporating art nouveau overlays into the images to add visual interest. The studio was shut down in 1930 after Léopold lost an eye in an accident.

Léopold Reutlinger - (untitled) (c1910)

Léopold Reutlinger – (untitled) (c1910)

Whether the images were proper portraits or soft erotica, they all conveyed a sense of glamour. This girl in various bath scenes may have been shot using some elegant props but none that I have seen had any art overlay and only some had hand-tinting. These are very hard to find, so I have been beating the bushes to find them or at least persuade collectors to share quality scans with us.

Léopold Reutlinger - (untitled) (c1905) (2)

Léopold Reutlinger – (untitled) (c1905) (2)

Léopold Reutlinger - (untitled) (c1905) (3)

Léopold Reutlinger – (untitled) (c1905) (3)

Léopold Reutlinger - (untitled) (c1905) (4)

Léopold Reutlinger – (untitled) (c1905) (4)

Léopold Reutlinger - (untitled) (c1905) (5)

Léopold Reutlinger – (untitled) (c1905) (5)

Léopold Reutlinger - (untitled) (c1905) (6)

Léopold Reutlinger – (untitled) (c1905) (6)

None of these images appear in any online collections, but if you want to see more Reutlinger productions, I recommend visiting Wonderings which also has links to other sites. I do have one other example that I had seen before I was aware that images could be copied from websites, so it is a bad second-hand copy from a printout I made. I hope someone will come forward with a better example of this image.

Léopold Reutlinger - (untitled) (c1905) (7)

Léopold Reutlinger – (untitled) (c1905) (7)

Because other bloggers may be a little leery about posting some of these because of the nudity, this is the ideal site for displaying them.  Therefore, I urge anyone owning any examples of this series to please come forward and send me some quality scans so they can be put on display here.  Pip can touch up most simple flaws that may exist in any specimens you may have.  Thank you, -Ron

The Publicity Dilemma: Girl Rising

Coincidences never cease to amaze me. While I was reading Tina Rosenberg’s remarkable book, Join the Club: How Peer Pressure Can Transform the World (2011), I rented a video, Girl Rising (2013), that just became available. I am almost sure that Rosenberg and the producers of Girl Rising do not know about each other and yet the stories complement each other so well. Girl Rising is a non-profit fundraising organization that distributes money to worthy causes that support the advancement of girls throughout the world—in this case, a girl’s right to an education.

The dilemma is that whatever horrific things are happening throughout the world, that information still needs to be collected and passed on to those who might do something about it; that is the simple reality. The problem today—with consolidated corporate media and the need to operate under capitalist principles—is that anyone dedicated to getting the word out must find the money for production and distribution, even for the noblest of causes. Therefore, the producers of Girl Rising took a chance and gambled that money that might have been used to open about 100 schools around the world, would be better spent producing this film in the hopes of raising even more money for these girls. In the case of Join the Club, Rosenberg had to use hard work and her reputation to convince a publishing company to promote her book so it could be read by people like me.

Girl Rising tells the story of nine girls and how they got access to an education and resist cultural pressures that would deprive them of it.

Sokha is from Cambodia, orphaned, and was found collecting recycling at a landfill to survive. This is a common story throughout the world and reminds me of the documentary Waste Land (2010) about an artist (Vik Muniz) who brought the public’s attention to garbage workers in Brazil. This story is a bit short on details, but this girl dreamt of wearing a crisp school uniform like the other girls and it came true.

Martha Adams, Richard E. Robbins and Tom Yellin - Girl Rising (2013) (1)

Martha Adams, Richard E. Robbins and Tom Yellin – Girl Rising (2013) (1)

Wadley is from Haiti and went to school until the big earthquake that devastated that country. The realities of money then became apparent as only those who had it could still send their children to school. Here we see Wadley—sometimes girls acted in their own stories; sometimes actors were hired—defiantly refusing to leave the classroom and the teacher finally gives in and lets her stay.

Martha Adams, Richard E. Robbins and Tom Yellin - Girl Rising (2013) (2)

Martha Adams, Richard E. Robbins and Tom Yellin – Girl Rising (2013) (2)

Suma is from Nepal and although it was officially banned, a kind of indentured servitude is still practiced. Suma tells her story through song about the three masters she had to serve starting at age six. They and their families all treated her badly until she met a teacher who convinced the third one to release her. She then worked to help free others by putting public pressure on these masters. This story is an example of what Rosenberg calls “The Social Cure”. When people are organized and can create a perception of something being popular or extremely unpopular, they can use the power of the crowd to motivate people to do the right thing.

Martha Adams, Richard E. Robbins and Tom Yellin - Girl Rising (2013) (3)

Martha Adams, Richard E. Robbins and Tom Yellin – Girl Rising (2013) (3)

Yasmin from Egypt is a story of a girl that was lured away by a man to be raped. In this case, she was able to valiantly fend off her attacker with a makeshift weapon. She refrained from killing the man and this scene shows her with her mother explaining their story to the police. The political reality is that this man was well-to-do and so the family could get some financial compensation, but not the kind of proper justice the family had hoped for. The man is still free and so a pseudonym is used for the girl in this story. It is because of things like this that families are motivated to marry their girls off young and forego school.

Martha Adams, Richard E. Robbins and Tom Yellin - Girl Rising (2013) (4)

Martha Adams, Richard E. Robbins and Tom Yellin – Girl Rising (2013) (4)

Asmera is from Ethiopia and she did not have an unpleasant childhood or family life, but it does illustrate how personal tragedy can devastate a family. Her father died and then an older sister, so the village elders were putting pressure on the widow to “save” Asmera by having her marry young. She was rescued by her older brother who finally convinced the mother not to let her marry and to continue her schooling.

Martha Adams, Richard E. Robbins and Tom Yellin - Girl Rising (2013) (5)

Martha Adams, Richard E. Robbins and Tom Yellin – Girl Rising (2013) (5)

Ruksana is from Bengal, India and her family lives in a makeshift house on a sidewalk in the city. Education is a priority for this family but living on the streets as they do is not safe for girls so the mother and the two girls were sent to a shelter for a time. There is one happy moment when she is brought to a shop and the father spends some money on her so she can have color markers and a tablet for her drawings which she uses to express her dreams of a better life.

Martha Adams, Richard E. Robbins and Tom Yellin - Girl Rising (2013) (6)

Martha Adams, Richard E. Robbins and Tom Yellin – Girl Rising (2013) (6)

Senna lives high in the Andes in Peru and uses poetry to express herself. Her father had a tough job as a miner and hoped for better things for Senna by insisting she go to school. He fell ill and died, but Senna (named after Xena, the Warrior Princess) managed to get a good job and become an “engineer”, a class of people who can make a living without working in the mines.

Martha Adams, Richard E. Robbins and Tom Yellin - Girl Rising (2013) (7)

Martha Adams, Richard E. Robbins and Tom Yellin – Girl Rising (2013) (7)

Mariama lives in Sierra Leone and is actually a regular teenager. She got a job at a radio station giving other girls advice that really helped. This is another illustration of the “The Social Cure”. The thing about giving advice is that it will only be listened to if someone respects the person giving it. Being a teenage girl herself, Mariama had credibility and could affect real change in other girls. Unfortunately, peer pressure from her uncle’s friends, compelled him to forbid her from working at the station anymore. Fortunately, she was able to persuade her uncle’s wife to help her get him to change his mind and recognize the important work she was doing.

Martha Adams, Richard E. Robbins and Tom Yellin - Girl Rising (2013) (8)

Martha Adams, Richard E. Robbins and Tom Yellin – Girl Rising (2013) (8)

Amina from Afghanistan is another whose identity had to be kept secret for her own safety. It is a simple story, but due to the severe policies of the Taliban, girls in much of the country are denied access to education. There are some organizations making headway and getting at least some of girls surreptitiously back to school.

Martha Adams, Richard E. Robbins and Tom Yellin - Girl Rising (2013) (9)

Martha Adams, Richard E. Robbins and Tom Yellin – Girl Rising (2013) (9)

Since the U.S., U.K. and Pakistani involvement in Afghanistan is ostensibly to combat terrorism, it is worth mentioning that Rosenberg described at length some possibilities for a “Social Cure” in that arena as well. As it happens, many of the young men willing to martyr themselves and promote violent action are London Muslims alienated by the surrounding Westerners and their culture. This kind of isolation means that any rash or radical ideas by compatriots (or imams at the pulpit) gain more credibility than one would normally expect and gets reinforced within the group until they are motivated to do something extreme to look good in the eyes of their peers. Western authorities make the mistake of not understanding this dynamic and not taking obvious steps to mitigate it. Fortunately, there are some organizations making some progress, paralleling similar efforts to eliminate gang culture in Europe and North America.

Rosenberg spends a lot of time describing one success story of Otpor! (Resistance!), a Serbian group run by young people and the key to president Slobodan Milošević’s ouster. There are many reasons for its success involving “The Social Cure”, but what was most remarkable is how young some of the participants were. In one instance, when the police were cracking down particularly hard, one of the leaders found a few 10-year-old girls to place stickers in the windows of the prominent businesses in Belgrade near the Otpor! headquarters; the police didn’t have a clue. I can just imagine the pride of these girls participating in this great adventure, mugging in front of the camera for a publicity shot. To the best of my knowledge, such a shot only exists in my imagination.

Regarding the stories in Girl Rising, it is hard not to be moved by them and I personally support sincere efforts to give girls a proper education and freedom from poverty. But having a carefully-honed skepticism made the production of this film feel a little fishy. Because of the agendas of certain institutions, carefully crafted messages have a distinctive character. This one has a kind of slick blandness that you see in productions that are being careful not to offend anyone in the hopes of gaining a wide audience.

One of the first things I found out about Girl Rising is that it does not conduct any of the logistics of programs that support girls; it is strictly a fund-raising organization and distributes the money evenly among a number of organizations doing actual work in the field. It is as though it is a self-appointed public relations arm of these organizations. These organizations are referred to as partners, but partnerships imply a two-way relationship. Visiting each of the websites of these “partners” did not give me any sign that they acknowledged Girl Rising. Except for whatever publicity the film offered, it does not appear that any other service is provided to these organizations. Therfore, if you are inclined to contribute, it would make more sense to contribute to these partners directly. The convenience of donating through Girl Rising will incur two fees: a 5% fee to a company that provides the financial transaction software application for the website and another 3.5% fee to a financial services company that disseminates the money as directed. The partners themselves, though, seem worthy of attention: A New Day Cambodia, CARE, Girl Up/United Nations Foundation, Partners in Health, Plan International USA, Room to Read and World Vision. I should add that Plan International has been tracking a story about 200 Nigerian schoolgirls who were abducted from their school in April. They are still at large and PI is attempting to pressure the Nigerian government to make a more concerted effort to get them back.

The other disturbing thing about Girl Rising is the heavy corporate sponsorship. Intel is a Founding Partner and a number of companies including Bank of America, Charles Schwab, Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase are called Mission Allies. I single out these companies because these “too big to fail” financial giants have had a big PR problem after the unpopular U.S. government bailout. It should be understood that although these corporations have budgets for improving their image, their obligation to stockholders means they cannot expend more than token funds on philanthropic endeavors unless it also affords some opportunity for market expansion.

See also: The “V” Word