A few last thoughts

Just a few areas that I feel would be worth exploring further in relation to my case study of the Thylane Blondeau photos, which we just haven’t had the time or space for in our presentation:

  • High vs Low Culture (as Reuben mentioned in a comment on one of my earlier posts)
  • Advertising and Fashion Photography, the economic exploitation of models.
  • The anglophone vs French media’s reaction to these images. Why has there not been the same vocal reaction in the French press? Particularly considering Carol Mann’s quote in this article in Fashionista regarding teen culture in France.

Looking forward to our presentation this afternoon!

An update on the cult of childhood

I just wanted to expand here a little bit on what I will say in the presentation about Darger’s reception in the 21th century and what it says about how contemporary audiences look at the cult of childhood now. And I would argue that the cult of childhood, though still a referrent in our minds, has become very much associated with a larger nostalgia for ‘how things used to be’.

There has been the emergence in the 60s and 70s of the new ‘problem novel’ which featured lonely children with less space for imagination, growing old before their time. Many parents say now that their children know more than they themselves knew at their age. In this sense, the age of Protection has ended and the age of Preparation for the challenges of adult life has begun.

We have talked about how context and genre dependent the reception of images of children are. We saw how prevalent the idea of protecting childhood innocence as a marker of first world priviledge is in documentary photography and film. In artistic circles however and especially avant-garde art which outsider artists such as Darger are often included in, I would say that  depictions of children which challenge or provoke this ideal are actually prevalent. We could think of the photographs by Bill Henson which Ryushi first brought up, or of the works of The Kid which come to my mind http://beautifuldecay.com/2014/11/21/powerfully-disturbing-certainly-controversial-art-kid/?view=true. This work is considered provocative and the reason why is that it feeds exactly into this typology of shattering the cult of childhood ideology. These are beautiful, young bodies put in situations of violence and agressivity, which are also clearly socio economic and political.

I think what this points to is an underlying assumption: that the public looking at these images is not ill-intended, that they in the first place hold a protective view over children and that this subversion/provocation being shown to them is necessary. Therefore the images will be provocative, because they will bring about a realization for the viewer. It’s related to the expectations that we have of an artistic audience: that they are educated and have a certain economic status. However when we look at the eroticism of The Kid’s works for example, it is a real question whether the audience is not participating in another kind of fetishizing young bodies. We should probably learn to not be too complacent audiences and wonder whether our gaze really is protective.

Some thoughts.

Something that’s come up a number of times in our group discussions is the desire to call into question the presupposed virtue of “inquiry”, “knowledge-seeking” and “revelation” attached to certain genres and context – in particular, this of documentary, of journalism, and even of academia. It seems that these sorts of institutions have obtained, as a result of aforementioned virtue, permission to publish/display images which are otherwise condemned as exploitative, the images themselves a form of violating the child’s body. But, since the image is considered an integral form of testimony, it is accepted. Some might argue that this is a necessary condition of the strength of the visual culture we have developed. Seeing is believing, right?

The problem is, I don’t think that can ring true when considering how the act of seeing becomes increasingly mediated (and the forces of this mediation rendering it increasingly problematic) as the image-saturation of our lives grows. I feel as if it becomes harder to “trust” what I see. Not merely because of superficial alterations of an image (cue endless photoshop before and after comparisons) but more importantly the effects of a media’s form/context upon our reception of an image, which we may not immediately consider.

Let’s back track to our formative meetings 2 months ago. When we first began thinking of the treatment of the child’s body as a topic, the discussion had developed upon mentioning the photograph of Alan Kurdi, a 3yr old Syrian boy, washed up on the Turkish shore. The publication of this image on the front page of newspapers, TV broadcasts, mass sharing via social media, etc apparently induced a global awakening of the plight of refugees (because it’s not like there has been steady reporting on drowning refugees and migrants for the last few decades… Oh wait. Yes, there has). There are a couple of points from this discussion which relate to the thesis we eventually developed:

  • It is because of the notion of a child’s purity and innocence that the washed up body of an infant, compared to that of a grown man or woman or adolescent, possessed such emotional gravity.
  • Arguably highlights an issue in the way that European societies perceive the refugee figure as not necessarily or inherently innocent, but very much politically charged. However, the child body escapes this political charge by the innocence and purity tied to its infancy.
  • It would seem that the ability for everyone to sympathise (and parents worldwide to empathise) with the image of a dead child points to a sort of universality of the sanctity of the child’s body, no matter its race, gender, nationality. The treatment of the child body should be the same the world over..
  • ….but not really, because the corpse of a Caucasian/European infant would not (and has not) been so graphically presented on the front pages of newspapers, nor broadcasted on TV. Social, political, racial, cultural factors mediate the acceptability of viewing the child’s body in this way.

I guess my point (yes, there is one..) is that the way in which our vision is mediated needs to be addressed. Our engagement with the act of seeing shouldn’t be blind to its blindness, which I feel is sometimes ironically exacerbated in the case of documentary/journalism and academic media, where images are used to facilitate a critical argument. Essentially I’m wondering if using images of violated children in this way constitutes its own form of fetishism – one which our reliance on visual testimonies prevents us from addressing because it serves a purpose of illumination. And this re-purposing of the image, in its new critical context, is supposed to overrule the initial problem that the image itself exists? I wonder if Stacey Dooley’s documentary, Young Sex For Sale in Japan, would be as popular, as convincing and impactful, if it didn’t show images of sexualised young girls and child-based pornographic material.

Just to round this off, in the spirit of self-critique, I wonder if focusing on/aggrandising the image in this debate is a mistake. Perhaps it’s a question of our appetite for detail, no matter the medium? Since, as demonstrated by Brendan O’Neill’s article, ‘Sharing a photo of a dead Syrian child isn’t compassionate, it’s narcissistic,’ his refusal to reproduce the image of Alan on the shore is supplemented by a graphic wordy description of the photograph instead.

As of yet, this issue remains very much inconclusive in my mind.


Musings on the Veneration of Childhood

I was just thinking about the notion of childhood, and looking into the history of child labour discovered that it started to be outlawed or at least frowned upon when technology advanced (following the industrial revolution) to the extent that education became necessary to operate such technology and keep the economy going. (See Wikipedia article on child labour which is very thoroughly referenced with a comprehensive bibliography: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Child_labour#The_Industrial_Revolution)

So one could then link the idea of preserving childhood to the need for education, in order to keep a strong economy, ironic when considering Marx stated that the British economy “could but live by sucking blood, and children’s blood too.” Certainly in a capitalist society, one could argue that children are educated so that they can later feed the capitalist machine.

Just some thoughts to complicate the reasoning behind preserving childhood.

Facebook and sexualised images of children

Hey guys,

So this is something that happened very recently which questions the limits and self regulations (or absence of) huge contemporary media such as Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bbcnews/videos/10154461040417217/?autoplay_reason=all_page_organic_allowed&video_container_type=4&video_creator_product_type=0&app_id=800871226593160&live_video_guests=0.

Quite relevant since I feel like it gives us another controversial issue with contemporary media which goes beyond the domain of fashion/ art photography. Maybe we can mention in towards our conclusion as an example ?


Notes and links post meeting – Child bodies

Hey all,

In addition to Guy Debord’s ‘Society of the Spectacle,’ we could look at Baudrillard’s analysis of media culture and ideology in ‘Simulacra and Simulation,’ to structure our argument. It may render our argument too abstract if we adopt the whole ‘hyperreality’ lens but his analysis of how media culture feeds into and shapes ideology in society could be v. useful. – v. brief summary here: https://www.cla.purdue.edu/english/theory/postmodernism/modules/baudlldsimulTnmainframe.html

Secondly, below are links to the clips I was referring to in the meeting. Please watch the Kusterica’s Time of the Gypsies clip because it is just spectacular: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FstVoiOEPJo

Moonrise kingdom: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s1p6C2dX_2w

Have a good weekend!




Transgressing Childhood and the Child’s Body

Using PROOF’s Child Soldiers documentary photography project, and Stacey Dooley’s documentary on the sexualisation of young girls in Japan, I suggest that the notion of childhood is a valuable reflection point within development geographies. This can be explored by analysing how the two documentary projects represent the transgression of childhood and the child’s body.

  • http://proof.org/child-soldiers/PROOF project entitled “Child Soldiers: Forced to be Cruel”
  • Consists of a hireable exhibition of 40 photographs by over 30 photographers, initially published as a book by Leora Kahn.
  • Photographs are predominantly portraits: ‘Their faces show the reality of lost childhood. The frivolity, joy, defiance, or rebellion of youth is replaced by the deadly seriousness of a gun-toting teenager’ (PROOF website).
  • PROOF describe themselves as a media platform for social justice, championing ‘visual storytelling for human rights and peacebuilding’ (PROOF website).As a collective, the PROOF project represents a shared vision of what is considered a transgression of childhood’s innate innocence and purity.
  • Some of the key locations where the exhibition has been shown (e.g. UN in New York City, modern art museums in Germany and Italy), in addition to the geography of their depicted subject matter (Central/West Asia, Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa, South America), perhaps highlight a geographical/spatial disposition toward the particular notion of childhood and the child’s body as innocent, pure, vulnerable, and in need of protection and preservation. It largely maps onto the broad (and terminologically conflicting) dichotomy of “First” and “Third” Worlds.
  • Arguably, this suggests that the idealised notion of childhood is one believed to be endangered by the instability of less socioeconomically development nations. The fact that the project visually prioritises depicting the tortured face and body of the child – with little/vague contextualisation of the social/economic/political environments through which conflict manifests – diminishes the capacity of viewers to understand the lost childhood of child soldiers in terms of its conflict/country specificities. Consequently, the transgression of childhood in this way becomes a generally “Third World” problem, and the recovery of childhood and rehabilitation of the child’s body a symbol of “First World” humanitarianism.
  • Using a second case study – Stacey Dooley’s 2016 Documentary: Young Sex for Sale in Japan – consolidates this analysis: part of the “shock factor” which Dooley mentions throughout the documentary is the fact that Japan is a ‘developed nation’, politically and economically. It is, therefore, disturbing to Dooley and her viewers (as perceived through media responses to the airing of her documentary) that Japanese culture could be rife with the sexualisation of children/young females, since this perversion of childhood and the child’s body is perceived as an issue of “less developed” societies.

Academic Summary (in lieu of abstract) – Reuben Hamlyn – Vision B

Hi All,

Sorry this has been so long coming. After initially my initial access, neither the password provided by the blog nor my password for other king’s apps granted me access. I had been waiting on a response since our meeting two weeks ago.

Anyway, as I am yet to complete my Translation Across Disciplines Coursework, here is a summary of my academic interests and involvements.

I major in English Lit although I consider Film, which I will minor in, as my guiding passion. Unless forced to, I rarely read literary texts from before mid 19th C and would say if I specialised in any literary medium, it would be the 20th C short story. I keep up to date with movements in contemporary fiction, particular short fiction. My interest in film is expansive but somewhat diffuse due to the broad range of styles and movements encompassed. Although my studies have been grounded in fiction cinema, I have researched contemporary experimental documentary which I believe could be of use to this project. I also have an interest in theory: psychological (Freudian and Lacanian), philosophical (“continental,” speculative, and philosophy of history/history of ideas), and finally I have studied/am studying media and culture theory.

Reuben Hamlyn

Representations of Child’s Body – Fine Art and Advertising

Following on from our meetings here is a quick overview of the works I have been researching.

Initially, I was reminded of the following article: Fae Brauer (2009) ‘Moral Girls’ and ‘Filles Fatales’: The Fetishisation of Innocence, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Art, 10:1, 123-143, DOI: 10.1080/14434318.2009.11432605. In this piece, Fae Brauer compares and contrasts contemporary reactions to Paul Chabas’ painting September Morn (1912) with Bill Henson’s untitled 2008 photographs of a thirteen-year-old girl referred to only as ‘N.’ Both elicited contemporary controversy, but today, the Chabas painting is more widely accepted as ‘art’ than Henson’s work, which continues to be described as pornographic. In her essay, Brauer utilises psychoanalytical theories and formal analysis to make the argument that the Chabas piece, in fact, titillates far more than Henson’s work.


Bill Henson, Untitled, 2008

Bill Henson, Untitled, 2008


Paul Chabas, September Morn, 1912

Paul Chabas, September Morn, 1912

Discussing this text with my group, advertising was mentioned as an area that frequently eroticises young girls’ bodies, and we briefly discussed American Apparel’s stills adverts which frequently use models who appear underage.


This drew me to a number of other adverts including Calvin Klein’s infamous 1981 Brooke Shields ad. Shields was 15 at the time of the advert, in which she poses wearing Calvin Klein jeans with her legs spread wide, with the tagline “You want to know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing.”

I was also reminded of the controversial shoot in French Vogue magazine featuring the then 10-year-old model Thylane Blondeau, which sparked much discussion regarding whether these images sexualise her or not. Some critics claim that these images of Blondeau are in fact a satirical jab at the fashion industry’s penchant for eroticising increasingly younger bodies, whilst others state that these photographs fall into line with the very images that they purport to criticise. See here for an overview of debates in the public sphere:

Thylane Blondeau Vogue

Sharif Hamza, ‘Cadeaux’ in Vogue Magazine Paris, 2011

These are just a few ideas of things I am interested in researching further. Perhaps the photographs of Thylane Blondeau offer the most room for debate, in the way that they are purportedly satirical, yet are published in a magazine that sells lifestyle and fashion. I feel there is room to apply psychoanalytic frameworks discussed by Brauer in her essay discussing Chabas and Henson’s work, exploring the likes of gaze and scopohilia, as well as to measure contemporary reactions in the press and on social media.


Representations of the child’s body- 2 examples

This is just a follow up to our meeting with Rosa and our last meeting together where we agreed on focusing on the body of the child, so here are the two examples I researched a bit.

Grave of the Fireflies:

To sum up the film briefly, it’s a Japanese animation film from 1988, adapted from a short story, which shows a sister and brother (about 14 and 5 years old) towards the end of World War II as the US is dropping fire bombs. Their mother dies in one of the raids and they struggle to survive on their own but eventually the little sister starves to death and the young boy dies later. The film is made in a very picturesque watercolour like graphic style despite its grim storyline and it often shows the children, especially the little girl Setsuko, in scenes of play which contribute to the audience’s attachment to the characters.

Interesting changes have been made from the autobiographical experience of the author who wrote the story as an apology to his little sister, feeling responsible for her death. He explains that the character of the young boy, Seita, is much more kind than he was and that in reality the hunger and exhaustion led him to become abusive to her. Despite feeling guily, he often ate her share of food and hit her when she couldn’t stop crying. Even though some viewers still blame Seita for not having done enough in the film version, he is a  dedicated care-taker and having him die in the story as well portrays him as a child victim of war, like his little sister.

I found several articles which looked into the question of victimhood which I thought was the most interesting in relation to the children here (Stahl, David C., and Mark Williams. “Victimization and “Response-ability”: Remembering, Representing, and Working Through Trauma in Grave of the Fireflies, ‘Transcending the Victim’s History: Takahata Isao’s Grave of the Fireflies’ by Wendy Goldberg). They analyzed how the (non)involvment of the children in the conflict builds this image of victimhood and relates to the Japanese national narrative of victimhood. It’s interesting to reflect on especially Western audiences’ sympathy to the film and the characters (whose father fights in the army) considering that Japan stills stands as the enemy in that war. Japanese war crimes have not been forgiven and arguably nor has Japan apologised for them satisfactorily, and I found this article amongst others to illustrate this view: http://nation.time.com/2012/12/11/why-japan-is-still-not-sorry-enough/.

There are lots of questions to investigate here: are the two children portrayed as ‘pure’ victims on the same level in the film ? Does Seita’s agency (in contrast to Setsuko) and the fact that he sides clearly in the war (by defending his father) make a difference ? In other words, is Seita purely innocent ? How does their age and the childish behaviour relate to the audience’s empathy towards them and balance out with  how Japan’s actions during World War II were/ are perceived ?

Henry Darger‘s work

The self-taught recluse Henry Darger has boomed to fame in the 90s and 2000’s after his work was found by his landlord after his death as they came to clean out the room. Since then he has been called a major figure of outsider art and is exhibited in prestigious museums in the US and Europe; the American Folk Art museum has even opened a Darger section and he was the subject of a documentary in 2004.

The giant amount of work that he produced however is highly controversial and has raised concerns about Darger’s mental health and the innocence of his depiction of children. What Darger named ‘The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What Is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion’ narrates the struggle of seven little girls mostly against adults who capture and torture them in bleak visual scenes. These children are the image of purity: white Christian little girls with angelic faces copied straight out of picture books. This article from the Huffington Post sums up pretty well the controversy around the artist and his sucess http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/01/29/henry-darger_n_6565294.html. The question of purity is what troubles the viewer :

‘Upon first glance, Darger’s artwork appears whimsical, virtuous, even sweet, with cartoonish young girls sprinkled across pastel-tinted landscapes populated by butterflies, flowers and puffy clouds. Yet it’s this very bounty of innocence and sentimentality that makes the twisted works all the more horrific. The graphic details of Darger’s writing are explicated without reservation — all the torture and pain laid bare on the page — to make it all worse, in candied colors. To add an additional layer of strangeness, Darger often depicts his little girls naked, and often with penises’

The suspicions around Darger’s obsessive copying and drawing of little girls’ bodies (with boy’s genitals) did not prevent his popularity in contemporary art circles and we can question how it has perhaps participated in it. In any case the reception of his works and its showcasing in important institutions internationally as a ‘postmodernist’ and somehow avant-garde belonging to the tradition of Art brut makes me wonder : are mental illness and disturbing images being capitalized as a trend in contemporary art  ?