International Day of the Girl

Hey, folks!  How’s it going?  Just a little reminder that today is the International Day of the Girl-Child, so designated by the United Nations, so it’s a great day to celebrate girls, including girls in art (and girls in the arts!) This is the fifth anniversary of the UN-created observance, founded in 2011 and initiated by the charitable organization Plan International.

Further Reading:

Day of the Girl (Official)

Day of the Girl Summit 2016

Wikipedia: International Day of the Girl Child

International Business Times: International Day Of The Girl 2016: Quotes And Facts To Celebrate, Empower Young Women

The White House: Presidential Proclamation — International Day of the Girl, 2016

The Guardian: How are you marking International Day of the Girl? Share your stories

The Child Portraits of Rennie Ellis

For those exploring the work of Rennie Ellis, the genre of child photography is not one that you would immediately think about.  However, due to the large size of his portfolio the artist has made a contribution. These images rarely make an appearance in any books about the photographer—there are less than five child images in each. Additionally, they are largely absent on any of the internet sites that detail his work which probably makes this webpage the only place which brings together a collection of his child portraits.

Rennie Ellis - Children in Melbourne and Suburbs (1980s) (1)

Rennie Ellis – Children in Melbourne and Suburbs (1980s) (1)

Rennie Ellis - (Untitled) (1974)

Rennie Ellis – (Untitled) (1974)

Reynolds Mark Ellis (1940–2003) was born in Brighton, Melbourne. After finishing high school at Brighton Grammar, he received a scholarship to Melbourne University in 1959. The artist dropped out of the course during his first year and started working at Orr, Skate & Associates, an advertising agency, where he stayed for three years. In order to further his knowledge he started studying advertising at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. Before he completed the course the desire for adventure and other experiences took hold and he went on a two-year tour of Europe, the USA, the Caribbean, the Pacific and Asia. As a way of documenting the journey he bought a camera and started to take photographs of the places visited; these images were the beginnings of the photographers artistic career.

When Ellis returned to Melbourne he obtained his Diploma in Advertising and started working at Jackson Wain Advertising, though this only lasted a year. Then he took up the position of Creative Director at Monahan Dayman Advertising. After two years the artist became tired of this work, so he became a freelance photojournalist. Photojournalism allowed him to create the photographs he wanted, which he described in an interview with Industrial and Commercial Photography magazine.

I gradually got disenchanted with advertising as a career, sick of the contrived situations, and became very interested in capturing real life situations, venturing out into the world and trying to record both in words and on film what people were doing, their attitudes and lifestyles, particularly of the subcultures and unusual people and places.

During the 1970s Ellis focused on creating, publicising and selling his art. The art of photography was struggling to gain relevance and acceptance in Australian society at this time so, in 1972, the artist set up the Brummels Gallery of Photography. The gallery was Australia’s first to focus solely on photographs and was a venue in which established and emerging Australian photographers could exhibit and sell their creative work without commercial restraints and in doing so would help redefine photography as fine art. The gallery always struggled to find financial support and despite receiving a Visual Arts Board of Australia Council grant to operate for one year, as well as receiving sponsorship from Pentax, by early 1980 the gallery was no longer financially viable and it was closed permanently. Ellis set up Scoopix Photo Library in 1974, which became another way of publicising and distributing both his own and other photographers’ work. The business sold images, both nationally and internationally, and eventually became affiliated with the famous Black Star agency. During this period he also set up his photographic studio, Rennie Ellis & Associates.

The photographers images of children are vastly different from his more well-known images. For those unaware of Ellis, he was a self-confessed party lover and voyeur so most of his published work displays his more voyeuristic side. Unlike today, the time when the artist was working was more innocent and people mostly ignored him as he snapped away. Therefore the photographer made many images at the beach, discos, night and strip clubs, some of these times as official photographer doing commission work and other times for personal enjoyment. These images were reproduced in many of his exhibitions and books. Working on commission gave behind-the-scenes access. This access allowed him to document, both in front of stage and backstage, many of the fashion shows occurring in Melbourne and in the homes of famous people, which would occasionally include their children.

Rennie Ellis - (Untitled) (1985)

Rennie Ellis – (Untitled) (1985)

Rennie Ellis - Stephanie (1999)

Rennie Ellis – Stephanie (1999)

Another significant area of his portfolio are his photographs of the Melbourne Cup, a horse racing event that was documented for more than twenty years. Working for the newspapers and magazines gave him a special access pass into the marquees and party tents, though he did not restrict himself to these areas. Whilst at the Melbourne Cup he travelled everywhere, from the car park to the members area.  He also photographed in the public grandstands, the betting ring and amongst the picnickers on the lawn areas. Many of these images appeared in his book entitled Cup Fever.

Rennie Ellis - (Untitled) (1983)

Rennie Ellis – (Untitled) (1983)

Rennie Ellis - Phar Lap at Flemington & Roses (1990s)

Rennie Ellis – Phar Lap at Flemington & Roses (1990s)

On viewing Ellis’ archive it can be seen that he had a strong desire to make a historical record for future generations to view. He nearly constantly carried a camera with him so that every time there was an important event happening, he managed to document the event and added more images to his collection. Displayed below are some of the many images the photographer took of the 2002 Anti-War Rally and the parades celebrating Australia’s armed forces and associated support groups.

Rennie Ellis - (Untitled) (2002)

Rennie Ellis – (Untitled) (2002)

Rennie Ellis - Kids Marching in Street Parade (1983)

Rennie Ellis – Kids Marching in Street Parade (1983)

Another way that these images document history is by showing the changing values and attitudes of society. For example, prior to 1980 nobody knew about the dangers of prolonged sun exposure, therefore being topless at the beach was common. However, as time passed public awareness campaigns were created, so people became more knowledgeable about the risks and, by the late nineties. nearly half the children on Australian beaches wore some type of neck to knee sun protection clothing or wet suits, with toplessness being nearly absent.

Rennie Ellis - Children in Melbourne and Suburbs (1974)

Rennie Ellis – Children in Melbourne and Suburbs (1984)

Rennie Ellis - (Untitled) (1980s)

Rennie Ellis – (Untitled) (1980s)

Rennie Ellis - Lorne (1998)

Rennie Ellis – Lorne (1998)

Many of the photographer’s child portraits appear in his albums of friends, family or street photography. He could take these images not only because of the more innocent times but also because many were taken within the neighbourhood of his studio where Ellis was a familiar person. Also the artist had a charming and engaging type of personality that made him hugely likable and it would then be hard to deny him the opportunity to photograph.

Rennie Ellis - Little Girl's Birthday Party (1976)

Rennie Ellis – Little Girl’s Birthday Party (1976)

Rennie Ellis - Communion (1980s)

Rennie Ellis – Communion (1980s)

Rennie Ellis - Woolloomooloo (Date unknown)

Rennie Ellis – Woolloomooloo (Date unknown)

Rennie Ellis - Children in Melbourne and Suburbs (1980s) (2)

Rennie Ellis – Children in Melbourne and Suburbs (1980s) (2)

The artist’s preferred way of documenting his work was through the publication of books—seventeen books were eventually published during his lifetime. The books mirror his archive in their diversity. There are only two subjects that are repeated in the photographer’s bibliography, three books about the beach, which focus mainly on images of women and surf culture, and three books on graffiti. The books about graffiti gives us an insight into the attitudes and concerns held at the time they were photographed; some of these are insightful and some hilarious, which is the reason they became some of his most well-known books. Due this focus on books he only held ten solo exhibitions and was part of thirty group exhibitions in his lifetime.

Rennie Ellis - Marxism and Leninism (1974)

Rennie Ellis – Marxism and Leninism (1974)

In 2003 Ellis died from a cerebral haemorrhage leaving us an archive so vast it can only be estimated at about half a million images. I believe that the artist did succeed in his effort to make a historical record of Australian society between 1970 and 2000 as well as capturing the broad character of Australia and its people. The Rennie Ellis Archive (REA) is now held in the State Library of Victoria; fifteen thousand of the images have been digitised.  It should be mentioned that anyone going there to see his child portraits will have to look at 14600 images that do not have children in them. For a more brief, but still varied, representation of his portfolio there is the website for the REA.

Pioneering Female Photojournalism: Esther Bubley

Esther Bubley was a freelance photographer that was active from 1945 to 1965. Many of her images are highly valued as historical documents as they cover a wide array of different social subjects. Mostly she photographed people going about their everyday lives, like workers and travellers on the American interstate bus network, children at play, medical workers and their patients or family life at home. She was remarkable as photo journalism was a male-dominated field at the time.  So for a woman to be have an ongoing job in this field that also gave her a secure income was rare. Most images she made were not staged, which allowed her to take some truly intimate and natural photographs. The artist said she achieved this by becoming part of the daily rhythm of the hospital and disappearing into the background with her camera.

Esther Bubley - Children watching the animals at the National Zoological Park (1943)

Esther Bubley – Children Watching the Animals at the National Zoological Park (1943)

Esther Bubley - Children playing in a fountain in Dupont Circle (1943)

Esther Bubley – Children Playing in a Fountain in Dupont Circle (1943)

Esther Bubley (1921–1998) was born in Phillips, Wisconsin, the fourth of five children to Louis and Ida Bubley. She was inspired to start photography after viewing LIFE magazine and the Farm Security Administration (FSA) images of depression-era America. After high school, Esther spent two years at Superior State Teachers College then spent her third year at the Minneapolis School of Art where she studied photography.

In 1941 she moved to New York City to become a professional photographer and her first paid job was at Vogue where she photographed still-life images. Disliking this job, she moved to Washington D.C. where she found employment at the National Archives and spent her days making microfilm. Soon after, in the fall of 1942, Roy Stryker hired her as a darkroom assistant at the Office of War Information (OWI). During her spare time the artist made images of the daily events occurring in the Washington area. Her employer noticed the quality of these images and thought she would be able to add to the photo archives of the OWI. He hired her as a staff photographer and sent her on a six week journey across the country to document the lives of Americans during World War II. These photographs were then added to the OWI archives, which are now housed at the Library of Congress.

Esther Bubley - Spectators at the parade to recruit civilian defence volunteers (1943)

Esther Bubley – Spectators at the Parade to Recruit Civilian Defence Volunteers (1943)

Esther Bubley - Passengers standing in the aisle of a Greyhound bus (1943)

Esther Bubley – Passengers Standing in the Aisle of a Greyhound Bus (1943)

In late 1943, when Stryker left the government to set up a public relations project for Standard Oil Company (New Jersey) (SONJ), he brought with him many OWI workers, which included Bubley. Her work at SONJ was part of a huge photo-documentary project that had the aim of promoting the business and enhancing its reputation. Two of the artists’ best known projects come from this period. The first was a portrayal of the oil town of Tomball, Texas and the second, the “Bus Story,” which showcased the role of long-distance bus travel in American life that is accomplished through the use of oil products. Some images are now at the University of Louisville.

Esther Bubley - Children playing near schoolhouse, Tomball, Texas (1947)

Esther Bubley – Children Playing Near Schoolhouse, Tomball, Texas (1945)

Waiting room at bus terminal (1947)

Esther Bubley – Waiting Room at Bus Terminal (1947)

During this period she was briefly married to Edwin Locke, but they soon divorced. By 1947 Bubley’s work had expanded and she was now freelancing for several organisations. One of these organisations was the Children’s Bureau, a Federal child welfare agency. Over several years her images appeared in their journal, The Child, including more than thirty covers.

Esther Bubley - Child Monthley (Cover) (1947)

Esther Bubley – Child Monthly (Cover) (1949)

The following year, her work made its first appearance in a group exhibition called ‘In and Out of Focus’—her first of four appearances—at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). A magazine that she created a lot of images for was the Ladies’ Home Journal. There she produced a photo essay on mental illness, which was awarded a first prize in the Encyclopaedia Britannica/University of Missouri School of Journalism contest. The medically-themed photos continued when she was hired by the Pittsburgh Photographic Library to live in the Pittsburgh Children’s Hospital and document the activities within, a commission which took several months. Originally intended as a story in LIFE magazine, this was cancelled in favour of documenting the Queen Elizabeth II coronation. However, thirteen prints from this series were made publicly available when they were displayed in the exhibition ‘Diogenes with a Camera,’ held at MoMA. She also documented life at Blythedale Convalescent Home for Children, in New York, for the Children’s bureau. An example of this work is displayed below.

The artist’s most internationally recognised work appeared in 1953 when she was hired by UNICEF and the French government to travel to Morocco to photograph a program to treat trachoma. Over several months she travelled around Ouarzazate documenting people receiving medical treatment and the positive aspects of UNICEF’s work.

Esther Bubley - Esther Bubley's World of Children (1981) (1)

Esther Bubley – (Untitled) (1948)

Esther Bubley - African child (1953)

Esther Bubley – African Child (1953)

Bubley produced many other overseas photo projects, such as photographing the areas of Central and South America where Pepsi-Cola sold and manufactured their product. These images were then published in their corporate magazine Panorama, which was distributed to their bottlers and shareholders. Then in 1964 and ’65 Pan American World Airways sent her on a world tour to document the areas they serviced. These images were then published in their corporate magazine The Clipper, which was distributed to employees and shareholders.

Between 1950 and 1965 the photographer freelanced for many magazines; her stories focused on medicine, families and social issues. Many of her articles appeared in LIFE—two were cover stories. Additionally, she created a dozen photo stories for the Ladies’ Home Journal series ‘How America Lives,’ which ran intermittently between 1948 and 1960. The series was very popular and was expanded into two new series: ‘How Young America Lives,’ which profiled teenagers, and ‘Profiles on Youth,’ about children. Also of note during this decade was the appearance of several images in ‘The Family of Man’ exhibition.

Esther Bubley - LIFE (Cover) (1951)

Esther Bubley – LIFE (Cover) (1951)

Esther Bubley - Esther Bubley's World of Children (1981) (2)

Esther Bubley – (Untitled) LIFE magazine (1961)

Esther Bubley - Esther Bubley's World of Children (1981) (3)

Esther Bubley – (Untitled) Ladies’ Home Journal (1948)

After 1965 the artist reduced her workload, as the frequent travelling became tiring. Instead, she focused on projects of personal interest and photographed the New York area, where she lived. During this time she created a book featuring macro photography of plants, two books about pets and a book documenting 159 of her child photographs entitled Esther Bubley’s World of Children. Unfortunately the book doesn’t mention titles or dates for the images contained within. She died in New York City, of cancer, on March 16, 1998.

The website about Esther Bubley’s career contains a lot of information about the work she completed, though there are only about 200 images of average quality. Another book, which contains about thirty-six images by Bubley, appears on Entitled ‘Your Child from 6 to 12,’ it is an interesting read detailing child care in 1949.

Laurits Tuxen

Danish painter and sculptor Laurits Tuxen was a member of the Skagen Painters, a group of Scandinavian artists who met in Skagen, Denmark’s northernmost town (situated at the very tip of the Skagen Odde peninsula) during the last decades of the Victorian era. The set also included husband and wife teams Michael and Anna Ancher and Peder Severin and Marie Krøyer, as well as Viggo Johansen, Carl Locher and Christian Krohg. These artists generally preferred outdoor (en plein air) painting, for which the sparsely populated Skagen was ideal. Peder Severin Krøyer was unquestionably the group’s anchor. One of the most popular Danish artists of his time and a dashing, dynamic and magnetic figure, he will get his own post here eventually. But for now, back to Tuxen.

Laurits Tuxen was raised in Copenhagen, where he studied at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. In addition to being an early member of the Skagen Painters, Tuxen traveled quite a bit, painting landscapes and portraits, mainly of European and Russian royalty. His style was primarily Realist, though he also dabbled in Impressionism. The following piece falls pretty solidly into the first category, though there are Impressionistic touches here and there. The painting features three young girls in their tween to early teen years on a beach in Skagen, two of them nude. It’s not a particularly unusual painting for its time. In fact, what’s most fascinating about this piece for me is that a set of photographs were taken of this scene as it was being painted, an unusual occurrence for artists of the Edwardian era, for which photography was still a fairly cumbersome activity, though its popularity was growing by leaps and bounds. Anyway, here is the painting:

Laurits Tuxen - Sommerdag på Skagen Strand med figurer (1907)

Laurits Tuxen – Sommerdag på Skagen Strand med figurer (1907)

We also have quite a bit of historical data on this painting. The standing girl and the girl lying on the beach in a pink dress were Tuxen’s own daughters, Yvonne and Nina, aged 13 and 10 respectively at the time. Yvonne was born in 1894, Nina in 1898. The third girl is almost certainly Peder and Marie Krøyer’s daughter Vibeke Krøyer, born in 1895, so she would’ve been about 12 or 13 here as well. She appears to have her father’s red hair. Now, here are the photographs of the scene, showing Tuxen at work in the background. You’ll see that, despite her nudity in the painting, Yvonne is fully clothed in the photos. This modesty may have been for the sake of the photographer, who has not been identified, but also it may have been unnecessary for her to strip, as the artist may simply be touching up some of the details. If you look closely, you can see that the painting appears to be pretty close to completion.

Photographer Unknown - Laurits Tuxen painting 'Sommerdag på Skagen Strand med Figurer' (1)

Photographer Unknown – Laurits Tuxen painting ‘Sommerdag på Skagen Strand med Figurer’ (1)

Photographer Unknown - Laurits Tuxen painting 'Sommerdag på Skagen Strand med Figurer' (2)

Photographer Unknown – Laurits Tuxen painting ‘Sommerdag på Skagen Strand med Figurer’ (2)

By the way, there is a wealth of information about this group and several more photos and artworks featuring these three girls, including some closeups (they were all quite beautiful in my estimation) at this site, where the above photos were borrowed from, though it’s all in Danish. If you’re willing to slog through it and do the translations, it is quite a fascinating look at the life of these artists and their children.

The Child Portraits of Harold Cazneaux

Harold Cazneaux is one of Australia’s iconic photographers and is widely considered to be the creator of Australia’s pictorial photography genre. His works appeared in the early twentieth century with cityscape, industrial and landscape photography dominating his portfolio. However, portraiture is also a significant feature and with the addition of the family album images he is a good subject for this website.

Harold Cazneaux - Beryl, Rainbow and Jean Cazneaux Looking at a Book (1913)

Harold Cazneaux – Beryl, Rainbow and Jean Cazneaux Looking at a Book (1913)

Harold Pierce Cazneaux (1878–1953) was born in Wellington, New Zealand, to Pierce Mott Cazneaux and Emma Florence Cazneaux. Due to a financial depression that was occurring in New Zealand, the family moved to Adelaide, Australia in 1888. Unfortunately, they found the same problems in Australia. Both parents worked in the photography trade so it would seem inevitable that Cazneaux would become a photographer himself. In 1896 the artist’s father, who was director of Hammer and Company, gave him his first job and he spent his working days as an artist and image retoucher. While employed there the photographer met his future wife, Winifred Hodge, whom he married in 1905 and they had six children.

Harold Cazneaux - Rainy day (1910)

Harold Cazneaux – Rainy Day (1910)

Harold Cazneaux - The quest (1910)

Harold Cazneaux – The Quest (1910)

The photographer was first inspired to shoot pictures after visiting an exhibition entitled ‘Pictorial Photographs’, which featured the work of Jack Kauffmann among others. In order to pursue his career, he moved to Sydney in 1905 where the art society was larger and more established. While in Sydney he worked as an artist and image retoucher for Freeman and Company. The artist bought his first camera in the same year and started to take portrait photographs of friends and relations he was living with. At this time he was also photographing the harbour and city of Sydney, as well as documenting the lives of the people who inhabited the city. Cazneaux could do this as he travelled to work by ferry then walked to the office, thus allowing him to wander the streets, find the right subject and wait for the right moment to create a photo. As he created his art, he photographed local history and because of this the images are treasured today.

Harold Cazneaux - Argyle Cut (1912)

Harold Cazneaux – Argyle Cut (1912)

Harold Cazneaux - Albion street (1911)

Harold Cazneaux – Albion Street (1911)

As a way of escaping conventional studio work and giving himself the ability to experiment with photography, Cazneaux joined the Photographic Society of New South Wales in 1907. There he gained access to their darkroom and could increase the number of images he was creating.  He also spent time lecturing and demonstrating photography to other members. The photographer would become director of the Society in 1917. Two years later the Society invited him to mount a one man exhibition. When talking about the exhibition in the book The Story of the Camera in Australia, Jack Cato wrote,

This was Australia’s first one man show… one of the milestones in the history of photography in Australia… It lifted photography to a new plane. The press, the critics and the artists acclaimed it. There for the first time they wrote of “the art of the camera” … “the great artistic possibilities of photography”

For the artist this acceptance of photography as a distinct art genre was more important than personal recognition. The exhibition also gave him international recognition, which resulted in his first overseas show held two years later at the London Salon of Photography. There he received more accolades and recognition with one reviewer making a direct comparison to Alfred Steiglitz’s photographs of New York City. By 1914 the artist had four daughters, who were featured in many of his pictures. One such image, Waiting Up for Daddy, was entered into The Kodak National Photography Competition and ended up winning first prize. The image has also come to be one of the photographer’s most recognised.

Harold Cazneaux - Waiting Up for Daddy (1914)

Harold Cazneaux – Waiting Up for Daddy (1914)

Cazneaux did not like the direction or ideas that the Australian art scene had at this time, so in 1915 he set up the Sydney Camera Circle. The camera circle wanted to embrace the Australian light and landscape rather than the darker, staged and European-inspired imagery that dominated Australian photography at the time.

The year 1918 was a year of change in the photographer’s life. For nearly twenty years he had been trying to balance the demands of commercial photographic work with the freedoms of his own personal work, which caused him much distress. The situation got worse when his employers attempted to legally bind him to the studio, preventing him from doing work outside of the business. As a result, he had a nervous breakdown and left Freeman and Company. The breakdown lasted almost a year until a friend, Cecil Bostock, lent him his studio; he was in Europe documenting the war. The artist could now create the images he wanted and he advertised his artistic photography and natural portrait services, which continued throughout the rest of his life.

Harold Cazneaux - Balloons, Angela (1933)

Harold Cazneaux – Balloons, Angela (1933)

Harold Cazneaux - Peggy Paton (1917)

Harold Cazneaux – Peggy Paton (1917)

Harold Cazneaux - Rainbow Cazneaux (1911)

Harold Cazneaux – Rainbow Cazneaux (1911)

The first commission he received, since his independence, came in the same year. The contract required him to produce a portfolio of images documenting the Prince of Wales’ visit. Soon after he had to vacate the studio and reestablished it at his home. When Sydney Ure Smith was developing a new magazine, The Home, he remembered Cazneaux’s work and approached him to become the official photographer. He accepted and his pictures dominated the magazine from its inception in 1920 till its closure in 1942. The work was multifaceted, from making portraits of the interviewees to photographing the interior and exterior of homes. Additionally, he supplied art prints for the magazine, one such print was The Bamboo Blind that was the frontispiece for the first edition. With six children, the photographer could also provide the clothing advertisements for the magazine; an example is displayed below.

Harold Cazneaux - Clothing advertisement (1922)

Harold Cazneaux – Clothing advertisement (1922)

Harold Cazneaux - Bamboo Blind (1915)

Harold Cazneaux – Bamboo Blind (1915)

Cazneaux’s work for The Home magazine was well known and this brought in many other commissions. He travelled across Australia photographing properties for Australian Home Beautiful magazine, with many of these images reappearing in the book Domestic Architecture in Australia. The artist contributed images to six other books during his lifetime: Sydney Surfing (1929), The Bridge Book (1930), The Sydney Book (1931) and The Australian Native Bear Book (1930). The book with subjects most relevant to this site is The Frensham Book (1934), which details the lives of the girls residing at the Frensham Girls School. There is also In the Persian Garden, an album which details the characters from the matinee ‘In a Persian Garden’, held at the Theatre Royal, Sydney, July 1922, in aid of the Children’s Hospital.

Harold Cazneaux - The Crossing (1934)

Harold Cazneaux – The Crossing (1934)

Harold Cazneaux - The Holt (1934)

Harold Cazneaux – The Holt (1934)

in a persian garden

Harold Cazneaux – Untitled image (1922)

These activities kept Cazneaux active for the rest of his life and provided ample photographs for overseas group exhibitions. He supplied at least one image per year for the London Salon of Photography from 1911 to 1952 and was elected a member of the Salon in 1921. The photographer also supplied images to the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain from 1908 to 1952 and was given an honorary fellowship in 1937—the first Australian to receive this honour. Due to his age, the artist reduced his work load back to strict portraiture in the 1940s and during the war years, the artist would focus on photographing soldiers and their families.

Cazneaux’s images of cityscapes and landscapes, including his iconic image The Spirit of Endurance can be seen at the State Gallery of New South Wales. If you have a spare day available, there are 1200 digitised images at the Trove website to look through, roughly 10% are his children’s portraits.

My Personal Kingdom: James Mollison

Occasionally I get leads from a liberal political and social discourse magazine called In These Times. Because it covers the arts, there are sometimes items relevant to Pigtails. This one I found most intriguing and I finally got to see a copy of Where Children Sleep (2010).

James Mollison was born in Kenya in 1973 but grew up in England. He studied Art and Design at Oxford Brookes University and film and photography at Newport School of Art and Design. He later moved to Italy to work at Benetton’s creative lab. Since August 2011, he has been working as a creative editor on Colors Magazine. His work has been published throughout the world including Colors, The New York Times Magazine, The Guardian, The Paris Review, GQ, New York Magazine and Le Monde. Five of his projects have been published as books.

His fourth book, Where Children Sleep, was triggered by Mollison’s own memories of his childhood bedroom in Oxford. He slept there from age five to nineteen. The bedroom changed over the years, as his parents allowed him to alter it to reflect his evolving tastes, interests and aspirations. If an outsider were to look at the room at any given point in time, it might seem a jumble. But even a seemingly mundane artifact can represent a vivid memory of personal significance. For example, the red carpet with black and white stripes was his own choice—a point of pride at the time and later an embarrassment as he became a style-conscious teenager.

My bedroom was my personal kingdom. When, in 2004, Fabrica (Benetton’s creative research centre) asked me to come up with an idea for engaging with children’s rights, I found myself thinking about my bedroom: how significant it was during my childhood, and how it reflected what I had and who I was. -James Mollison, Introduction, Where Children Sleep, 2010

He decided to tackle this project by focusing of children’s bedrooms and how they might address some of the complex situations and social issues affecting them. He didn’t simply want his work to be about needy children in the so-called developing world, but something more inclusive and, indeed, he does cover some middle class and well-to-do households. The result is a series of diptychs each comprised of one image of the child with a neutral background and the other of his or her sleeping space. Mollison’s photographs span the ages of 4 to 19, corresponding to the years he spent in his childhood bedroom. Like many courageous photo-journalists, he ventured into areas that were subjected to the effects of severe political strife—whether covering refugees fleeing a military regime in Myanmar (Burma) or oppression from the Chinese government in Tibet or trying to make a living in the West Bank under the looming Isreali military occupation. Remarkably, the photographer refrains from making judgments about the political situation or the way his subjects have conducted themselves under their particular circumstances. Mollison’s stated agenda was simply to document a personal journey of curiosity and engage his readers with the images that moved him and, consequently, help us gain an appreciation for how fortunate many of us are.

The cream you see on 4-year-old Lay Lay’s face is a local concoction used to condition and protect the skin. She is a refugee from Myanmar now living in Thailand and since no one claimed her after her mother’s death, she has been living in an orphanage.

James Mollison - Where Children Sleep (2010) (1a)

James Mollison – Where Children Sleep (2010) (1a)

Her sleep area reflects the need for efficient use of space. Only two rooms are used by the 22 children. When the rooms are not used as a classroom and dining room, the furniture is pushed aside so that mats can be placed down for sleep. One drawer is allocated for the personal belongings of each child.

James Mollison - Where Children Sleep (2010) (1b)

James Mollison – Where Children Sleep (2010) (1b)

In stark contrast, 4-year-old Kaya lives in Japan. Although space is at a premium, the family live well and Kaya’s mother makes her daughter’s clothes by hand—up to three a month. Among her accessories, she has a number of wigs and the pigtails seen here were fashioned from hairpieces.

James Mollison - Where Children Sleep (2010) (2a)

James Mollison – Where Children Sleep (2010) (2a)

Her bedroom is something of a little girl’s dream, piled from floor to ceiling with clothes and dolls.

James Mollison - Where Children Sleep (2010) (2b)

James Mollison – Where Children Sleep (2010) (2b)

Seven-year-old Indira’s picture is one that appeared in In These Times. She lives in Nepal and has worked at the local granite quarry since she was three. 150 other children also work there, four or five hours each day.

James Mollison - Where Children Sleep (2010) (3a)

James Mollison – Where Children Sleep (2010) (3a)

The family members all live in one room. There is one bed and one mattress and Indira shares the mattress with her brother and sister.

James Mollison - Where Children Sleep (2010) (3b)

James Mollison – Where Children Sleep (2010) (3b)

Eight-year-old Syra lives in Senegal. It is reported that she always looks sad because a sorceress put a curse on her and her sister. The mother made an effort to cure the girls, but they have been shunned by the local villagers, making her ineligible for marriage. Under these conditions, the girls will not be able to stay with their mother and Syra’s only hope is to be taken in by her grandmother. Otherwise, she will have to live as an outcast.

James Mollison - Where Children Sleep (2010) (4a)

James Mollison – Where Children Sleep (2010) (4a)

James Mollison - Where Children Sleep (2010) (4b)

James Mollison – Where Children Sleep (2010) (4b)

Ten-year-old Douha lives with her parents and 11 siblings in a Palestinian refugee camp in the West Bank. She was born in a refugee camp and has always known violence due to the Isreali military presence. She makes the ten-minute walk to school every day and works hard in the hopes of becoming a pediatrician. Her family has been subjected to additional abuse because Douha’s brother made a suicide-bomb attack against an Israeli target.

James Mollison - Where Children Sleep (2010) (5a)

James Mollison – Where Children Sleep (2010) (5a)

Douha sleeps in the same room with all of her sisters.

James Mollison - Where Children Sleep (2010) (5b)

James Mollison – Where Children Sleep (2010) (5b)

Eleven-year-old Lei lives in the Yunnan province in China with her grandparents, brother and two cousins. Her parents had to find work in the city but they return often to visit their children. Yunnan is the most ethnically diverse region in China and Lei’s grandmother feels it is important to pass on the customs of one’s heritage to the next generation. Lei goes to school and hopes her parents can one day borrow the money to send her to university to become a doctor.

James Mollison - Where Children Sleep (2010) (6a)

James Mollison – Where Children Sleep (2010) (6a)

James Mollison - Where Children Sleep (2010) (6b)

James Mollison – Where Children Sleep (2010) (6b)

Eleven-year-old Thais lives in a two-story flat with her parents and sister in Rio de Janeiro. She lives in a dangerous poverty-stricken area which has improved greatly since it got public attention after the release of the film, City of God in 2002. Thais is a fan of popular culture and wants to become a model.

James Mollison - Where Children Sleep (2010) (7a)

James Mollison – Where Children Sleep (2010) (7a)

She shares a bedroom with her sister.

James Mollison - Where Children Sleep (2010) (7b)

James Mollison – Where Children Sleep (2010) (7b)

Mollison’s latest book was also inspired by his childhood, Playgrounds (2015). What struck him the most was how so many of his memories took place in the venue of the playground and, naturally, he wondered what other children’s experiences were like.

Most of the images from the series are composites of moments that happened during a single break time—a kind of time-lapse photography … Although the schools I photographed were very diverse, I was struck by the similarities between children’s behavior and the games they played. -James Mollison,

Random Image: Janet Mendelsohn

Today’s image comes from a photographic exhibition that took place this year from late January to early April entitled ‘Varna Road’. The photographer was an American academic and documentary filmmaker named Janet Mendelsohn. It was part of a “photo essay” produced while she was a student at the University of Birmingham in the UK from 1967–69.

Janet Mendelsohn - The Street (c1968)

Janet Mendelsohn – The Street (c1968)

The purpose of the photo essay was to depict everyday life in the inner-city district of Balsall Heath. The idea was an experiment in using photography as a tool for cultural analysis. Her work provided an insight into an impoverished community in flux from the stresses of immigration from the Caribbean and South Asia. The project culminated in an archive of 3,000 photographs and interviews now held at the Cadbury Research Library at the university. Mendelsohn’s work also preserved the record of a way of life that was about to be obliterated by the persistent push to clear the slums, completely eliminating some streets including its most infamous, Varna Road, part of Birmingham’s largest red light district.

Intimate Life in the Public Eye: Nick Waplington

What is remarkable about Nick Waplington’s photographs is the special way in which they make the intimate something public, something that we, who do not know personally the two families photographed, can look at without any sense (or thrill) of intrusion. Countless photographs violate the intimate simply by placing it in the public context of a book, a newspaper, a TV slot. Yet others—like most wedding photographs—make the intimate formal and thus empty it of its content. -John Berger, Living Room, 1991

The first time I saw this artist’s work was in an issue of Aperture Magazine (#121, Fall 1990), a special issue about censorship called “The Body in Question”. The strange thing was that none of the articles referred to it so it was completely out of context. The issue discussed the uproar about photographing naked children and there were naked children in the image, but that was all.

Nick Waplington - Living Room (1990) (1)

Nick Waplington – Living Room (1990) (1)

There was no indication that ‘Living Room’ was a vivid photographic exhibition about working-class family life or that it was being made into a book (Aperture Press, 1991).

Nick Waplington (born 1965) comes from Nottingham and has a strong connection with the people there but because his father was a scientist in the nuclear industry, he traveled extensively in his childhood. He studied art at West Sussex College of Art & Design in Worthing, Trent Polytechic in Nottingham and the Royal College of Art in London. Starting in 1984, Waplington made regular visits to see his grandfather in Aspley, Nottingham, photographing his immediate surroundings. The friends and neighbors of his family became his subject matter of choice. He continued with this work on and off for 15 years which yielded a number of series including the one that became his first published book.

Nick Waplington - Living Room (1990) (2)

Nick Waplington – Living Room (1990) (2)

Among the pictures on the school table, I had found a thrilling color photograph by one of the students: three demonic little girls in plaid dresses, Hoovering the lawn. “Whoever made this photograph has found his eyes.” I said, “If he pays attention to the accident of what he’s done he can trust those eyes. There’s an entire body of work charted in this photograph—the life’s work of a completely original and powerful artist.” -Richard Avedon, Living Room, 1991

Nick Waplington - Living Room (1990) (3)

Nick Waplington – Living Room (1990) (3)

Avedon was half joking because, like Sally Mann, he knew full well that happy accidents do not occur on a regular schedule; he did not imagine that the rest of the photos in the box would maintain that standard.

Nick Waplington - Living Room (1990) (4)

Nick Waplington – Living Room (1990) (4)

Living Room covers the lives of two neighboring working-class families in Nottingham over a period of four years and, in studying the images carefully, one can almost share the experience of the children growing up. Most of the shooting took place on Saturdays because that is when the families are at their most dynamic. No one has to go to work and there is a respite for indulging in the pleasures and dramas of family life. John Berger calls this series the photographic equivalent of Peter Paul Rubens’ work, because it is baroque in its composition and subject matter and perhaps a target of ridicule by stodgier members of the art community. There is an intense sense of intimacy; somehow Waplington has managed to put his subjects at ease to get off these shots.

Nick Waplington - Living Room (1990) (5)

Nick Waplington – Living Room (1990) (5)

The logic behind the title is that the artist is where the action is, the places where family members are gathering and engaging. This could literally be in the living room or any other place where drama is playing out. If someone has a need for some privacy, they can leave the scene and know that Waplington will not follow.

Nick Waplington - Living Room (1990) (6)

Nick Waplington – Living Room (1990) (6)

The photographer avoids the typical approach of a documentarian. He uses a 6×9 camera designed for panoramic shots, giving the images an epic quality. His low vantage point in the scenes gives the photos a feeling of immediacy as though they were being observed by a child. Waplington’s feet even appear in some of the pictures. By using these techniques, there is an impression of a real organic drama and the viewer is let in on the action.

Nick Waplington - Living Room (1990) (7)

Nick Waplington – Living Room (1990) (7)

Nick Waplington - Living Room (1990) (8)

Nick Waplington – Living Room (1990) (8)

There are many excellent photographs not included in the book. Some were used for other series such as ‘Weddings, Parties, Anything’ and many were recently compiled in the book Living Room Work Prints (2016).  You can see a video which show a quick flipping through the book here.

Nick Waplington - Living Room (Supplemental) (1990)

Nick Waplington – Living Room (1990) (9)

A subsequent book, Other Edens (1994) focused on more global environmental concerns in contrast to the intimate portrayal of the Nottingham residents. He continued his pseudo-documentary work with a bleak study of the Ecstasy drug culture in the mid-1990s and made a global road trip where the journey itself became the art. Another interesting project was a pictorial game illustrating the history of photography using the town of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico (named after the famous game show) as a backdrop. A 2002 work called Learn How to Die the Easy Way expressed his yearning for the artistic and commercial freedom that the web might offer.

If, as I suspect, the Internet has broken the stranglehold of governments and large media corporations on mass communication, then we could be in for a very exciting period of development on a number of different levels. Would a breakdown of current modes of social, moral and political cohesion be too much for a man to ask for? -Nick Waplington, 2002

One can only hope. You Love Life (2005) is a pictorial taken over a 20-year period and made into an autobiographical narrative. Waplington collaborated with Miguel Calderon to produce graphic novels and fashion designer Alexander McQueen for a work illustrating the processes of both designers and artists. The artist also experimented with a print-on-demand service to test alternatives to the increasing costs of producing photobooks.

Nick Waplington’s Blog

Thanks go to the Academy of Art University Library for generously sharing their copy of Living Room, without which, this post would have required an expensive purchase.

Random Images: Lucille Ricksen

It is so often true that tragedy accompanies beauty. The following image, in the typical Edwardian style, is of a girl who was a promising model and actress with the pseudonym Lucille Ricksen (1910–1925).

Evans (?)  - Lucille Ricksen (1910s)

Evans (?) – Lucille Ricksen (1910s)

Ricksen was born in Chicago of Danish immigrants and had an older brother, Marshall, who also appeared in early silent films. She began her career as a professional child model and actress at age 4. Through her roles, she garnered enough fame to be able to provide for her parents. In 1920, she moved to Hollywood at the request of Samuel Goldwyn, casting the eleven-year-old in a comedy serial called The Adventures of Edgar Pomeroy. Afterward, she began to be cast in full-length films and her career prospects continued to rise.

Ricksen often played characters who were much older than herself and she was recognized by the public and people within the motion picture industry for her maturity at handling adult themes. In 1924, at the age of fourteen, she was one of thirteen young women honored each year, believed to be on the threshold of movie stardom. During her busy schedule that year, she was often ill and in early 1925, her health worsened and she was diagnosed with tuberculosis. At this point, her father abandoned the family. Her mother, Ingeborg, tried to care for her while she was bedridden but had a fatal heart attack, literally collapsing on her bedridden daughter. Ricksen spent her last days being taken care of by others in the movie colony and two weeks after her mother’s death, she succumbed, at age fourteen. After her death, she became a kind of poster child condemning parents for overly exploiting their talented children.