Antwerp exhibition puts children in front of the lens

Summary

The Nonage show at Gallery Fifty One in Antwerp explores how young people are photographed and their childhood recorded, from studio shots to Renaissance-like portraits

Ambiguous pictures

Saying that the photographs in Nonage, at Antwerp’s Gallery Fifty One, are all of children is something of a simplification. They range from toddlers, clearly at the mercy of the camera, to assured young adults, confident about how they look.
 
Photo by Elinor Carucci

But none of the pictures is without some kind of ambiguity, which makes this modest exhibition a fascinating opportunity to think about how young people are photographed.

The most formal records of childhood are studio shots. Belgian photographer Norbert Ghisoland’s 1925 image shows a plump little boy in knitted shorts, barely able to hold still in front of a painted landscape. The staging is similar in Malian photographer Seydou Keïta’s 1957 image of twin baby girls, apparently baffled to be in European clothes.

In more recent photographs the situation becomes more complex. Roger Ballen’s shot of a girl sleeping beneath a portrait of a stern elderly couple, a cat perched on her hip, might be an unguarded moment or pure theatre. Either way, it is a beautiful image.

Meanwhile Elinor Carucci’s equally striking “The Woman That I Still Am #2, Mother” (pictured) adopts Renaissance iconography in its framing of a child’s hand reaching up to a mother’s cheek.

In parallel with these staged images is a line of more documentary photography, intended to record children at play or just wandering the streets. American youth looms large, from New York in the mid-20th century, as recorded by Arthur Leipzig, Jan Yoors and Bruce Davidson, to the contemporary California of Deanna Templeton.

My favourite is by Helen Levitt, a small photographic proof from around 1942 that shows a boy battling the spray from a fire hydrant with an open umbrella. It has all the spontaneity of street photography, yet also suggests a struggle against the rush to adulthood.

Until 28 June at Gallery Fifty One, Zirkstraat 20, Antwerp

The Nonage show at Gallery Fifty One in Antwerp explores how young people are photographed and their childhood recorded, from studio shots to Renaissance-like portraits.

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