guilty and lovin’ it

Not innocent and bathing in the glory, the release of the burden of innocence. Freedom. There was a time when children were less glorified and spoilt.The child’s innocence was lost in pregnancy and never recovered..

In all our periods and transitions in this life, are so many passages from death to death; our very birth and entrance into this life is exitus à morte, an issue from death, for in our mother’s womb we are dead, so as that we do not know we live, not so much as we do in our sleep, neither is there any grave so close or so putrid a prison, as the womb would be unto us if we stayed in it beyond our time, or died there before our time. In the grave the worms do not kill us; we breed, and feed, and then kill those worms which we ourselves produced….

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…In the womb the dead child kills the mother that conceived it, and is a murderer, nay, a parricide, even after it is dead. And if we be not dead so in the womb, so as that being dead we kill her that gave us our first life, our life of vegetation, yet we are dead so as David’s idols are dead. In the womb we have eyes and see not, ears and hear not. There in the womb we are fitted for works of darkness, all the while deprived of light; and there in the womb we are taught cruelty, by being fed with blood, and may be damned, though we be never born… ( John Donne, 1630 )

Kids are always less uninhibited for the most part compared with adults who for the most part are grown children. There is something less diluted about their identity and their candor. The idea of them being completely formed and unformed at the same time has always made them appealing to photographers. The idea of child innocence is of course a manufactured innocence. Created to serve a grownups end. Instead of treating them like garbage , beginning in the age of Dickens they began to be embodied with the notion of innocent which gave them the image of being less proactive and formed and more helpless, dependent and more passive prey to exploit. The Artful Dodger became a self-conscious puzzle addict.

R.M. Vaughan:In my favourite photograph, a child attempts to stand on the arm rests of opposite train seats, blocking the aisle. Although we cannot see the child’s face, he is watched from a short distance by a serious looking man sporting thick glasses. Clearly, the child knows he is being observed, and either doesn’t care and gives the stunt a go anyway, consequences be damned, or thinks he’ll get away with his misbehaviour. Read More:

Children are not so much innocent, as about giving the impression of innocence. Its all about the ways in which this innocence is created and marketed. Behind the veneer of innocence the advertising is pretty violent. Innocence is  something we make. We are not born into innocence. Its a sophisticated fairy tale that speaks more about ourselves and our desires rather than something we actually are. The idea is that we are born pure and gradually become worn out and obsolete with time. A life of built in obsolescence so the nostalgia and sentimentality associated with children could be mythologized.  Historically, the religious view focused on original sin of which there was no getting around it; and angels didn’t bother too much with infant mortality. One less mouth too feed.

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Sigmund Freud brought the issue of the childhood “family drama” to the fore  through an exploration of children’s passive sexual experience before puberty. The victimized infants carried sexual and violent fantasies- of which he later changed tack and called confabulations- from which the notion of innocence passed through the filter of anxiety. Hard to know whether the violence was learned from parents or a reaction to being taken advantage of, but clearly there was a complicity and an interest in sugar coating childhood.  Effectively, Freud may have drawn on the books of Heinrich Hoffmann’s “Der Struwwelpeter” books which near-traumatically portrayed childhood as the graphic emotional rollercoaster it was where childhood innocence and guilt were intertwined.

Heinrich Hoffmann illustration.

Helen  Levitt once said that photograph

children was like capturing fragments of a play whose first and last acts were elsewhere

…A collection of acclaimed photographer George S. Zimbel’s images of children, currently on display at Stephen Bulger Gallery, perfectly illustrates the difference between recognizing a child model’s limited self-awareness (and employing it to great effect), and imposing an adult reading of a child as “innocent” onto an image of a child (which, at best, is cute, at worst, maudlin). Zimbel’s subjects, even at their most posed and camera-ready, are never mindless innocents – they are creatures at play, in the process of discovery, a process which includes discovering their own capacity for self-deprecation, performativity, and even malevolence. If Zimbel wrote kids’ books, he’d be Roald Dahl, not L. Frank Baum. Read More:

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Vaughan:Many of the photographs in the exhibition were taken in the middle of the last century and if you look away from the children, especially in images that capture crowds or busy streets, you notice something practically unthinkable today: nobody is watching the kids.

Apparently, in some golden era, children were invisible, or at least not incessantly monitored. No wonder they grew up, those boomer babies, to take over the world (and then wreck it) – they were treated as little more than visual noise. Reflex narcissism was embedded in them at an early age….

---“People think I love children, but I don’t,” Levitt said in a 2001 interview with the New Yorker magazine. “Not more than the next person. It was just that children were out in the street.” In the 1930s, she said, a lot of living went on in public places. “That was before television and air-conditioning,” Levitt told the Chicago Tribune in 2003. “People would be outside, and if you just waited long enough they forgot about you.” She set her lens focus and waited. The results were like “fragments of a play whose first and last acts are elsewhere,”---Read More:

…Teeming with detail and a rough bluntness, Zimbel’s informed and informing photos of tykes and moppets are perhaps more fresh and vital now than they were when first taken, because the freewheeling children depicted are an endangered species. Read More:

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