Our image of the child is constantly subject to change. While in the Middle Ages the child was seen as a small adult, the 'child' was 'discovered' in the Golden Age; the child, free from adult sin, the innocent child of the Romantics. For centuries now we have clung to this image, and many people still want to believe in the ideal image of the innocent child. This image offers an escape from the vicissitudes of adult life.
The world in which children find themselves today is more divided and diverse than the protected world children inhabited in the Romantic era. Unlike the Romantic image of the child that was neatly presented as a delightful spectacle to be enjoyed, the new image of the child is not manageable and controllable. As a result of television and internet, among other things, the adult world is no longer as opaque for children as it was decades ago. Children are faced with adult problems at a younger age, problems they sometimes cannot cope with and find it difficult to handle. We as adults also find it difficult to see that children are dealing with problems that we believe someone their age should be facing.
My work deals with the struggle of having to be young and wanting to be adult. I want to take seriously and visualise the complex feelings of the child.
I have made portraits of children in their own home situation, concentrating fully on the child. The serenity in the images and the subtle gestures leave space for making the complex feelings — both of the children, and of ourselves as viewers — perceptible. Because I work with natural light, the children often have to sit still for a long exposure; that demands a concentration that is indispensable. In that moment the children are playing no role; they are at rest and entirely themselves. My way of working is characterised by great precision and serenity. Emotional subtlety and sensitivity are very important for me. The struggle takes place in silence.
In my work the children show a certain self-awareness that appears very adult, while at the same time the vulnerability of being a child trickles through. As a child you want to be older; that is more interesting, you can do more, you know more and you are permitted more. No child wants to be ‘childlike’. The image that we have of children is different from how children see themselves and one another. At a very early age children are already occupied with their ideal image, as they get older this image becomes increasingly clear. Trying to imitate an ideal image however produces a conflict. Children can recognise themselves as attractive and practice their look or pose of beauty in front of a mirror. The consciousness of oneself as an image grows quickly, but there is still the conflict between the self and the ideal on the surface. Children are not yet entirely trained in how to come across in a photo, how they come across as ‘image’. The self-image has not yet entirely formed, the child is still seeking.
These conflicts I find very interesting. On the one hand, some children appear to already have a whole life behind them. An ‘old soul’ seems to have settled into the body of a child. On the other hand there are still those feelings of latent unease present. As it is, the self-awareness that the child appears to show, and at the same time the personality that is not yet entirely formed, create a tension between the inward feelings and external appearances.
This emotional duality surfaces in various ways. I want the subject to look at the viewer, eyeball them, confront them with his own thoughts. The roles switch around. The viewer should get the feeling of being interrogated by these children. You begin to ask yourself what a child really is, what meaning you can attach to the image of a child, and how we as adults look at — and may look upon - children.
Going beyond the image of innocence, sweetness and endearment that is still often associated with children, I want to show something of the psychological state of maturing children, how they are influenced by society, and with this something of the universal tragedy of being a child.
For more information see: Nauta, T., Het Kindbeeld, Het kind in onze maatschappij, Onze visie op het kind ~ Van de Romeise tijd tot heden
& De afbeelding van het kind, De verandering van het kindbeeld in de loop der eeuwen
, Rotterdam 2008
Higonnet, Anne, Pictures of Innocence, The History anc Crisis of Ideal Childhood
, Thames and Hudson Ltd, London, 1998