Last week i came across a brilliant collection of art photos that the Guardian featured on it’s Big Picture Series. The striking images of children dressed in retro vintage outfits and garments from a by gone era read like a photographic picture book of fashion history, except for the fact that the clothes and stances are of adults of the past and the main activity being hopefully in the domain of ‘Adults Only’ is Smoking.
Frieke Janssens, a Belgium photographic artist, first devised this series after seeing the ‘youtube sensation’ of an indonesian toddler with a 40 a day habit. She found a juxtaposition between East and West as here in Europe and the US, smoking is seen as an adult activity and smoking laws are often pushed through for the protection of children. She explains that:
‘ I wanted to isolate the viewer’s focus upon the issue of smoking itself. I felt that children smoking would have a surreal impact upon the viewer and compel them to truly see the acts of smoking rather than making assumptions about the person doing the act.’
The Vintage costumes display how smoking has been used to glamorise the past and in so doing glamorise smoking. Films and TV that is set in a distant past achieve this suave smoking style and this in affect devalues the impact of health warnings of the modern world. It was Janssens intention to show that through the glamour of this retro feeling ‘ there is a nod to less attractive aspects, on the line between the beauty and ugliness of smoking.’ I myself find the pictures strangely beautiful and gripping, as you put your own story behind the picture, and i think that for me this shows Janssens has really achieved what she set out to do.
I am not a smoker myself and i am quite for banning it in public places, so these pictures really reaffirm my feelings towards the subject, but I wonder whether they would have the same affect on a life long smoker, a few a day smoker or a social smoker. As with all art it can speak to people in many different ways or not move them at all. The collection comes from an interesting angle and is a great commentary of our treatment of smoking in the media but i think pictures of tumours on cig packets are maybe more shocking and effective. Do you find these shocking or delightful? Interesting or obsolete? If you’d like to see more of Janssens work visit her Website
p.s. No children where harmed in the making of this, Chalk and Cheese were used during shoots and cigs added in post production.