As is evident on this blog, the image of the nude young girl is an image loaded with cultural baggage and, in some cases, peril for the artist. We view children as vulnerable anyway, but the unclothed child is seen as even more vulnerable. But nudity—when divorced from the modern context in which it conveys sexual availability—also can call to mind spiritual innocence, especially when the nude figure is a child. This is precisely why the child nude was such a popular art subject with the Victorians; they saw each individual as the microcosm of the whole of humanity itself, and children were therefore a representation of pre-Fall Adam and Eve, the earliest incarnation of Man, an idyllic period of time before humans fell out of God’s good graces and became sinners in need of redemption. With the waning of Christianity in the West the nude child has come to be seen differently, and, ironically, it is the Christians who now most often look upon the nude child as something shameful and sinister.
Under our knowing postmodern gaze, it is with mixed emotions that we look upon images of nude children which subvert this paradigm . . . exactly the point of the image below, taken by the masterful one-of-a-kind Czech photographer Jan Saudek. Here we have perhaps the ultimate example of the subversion of said paradigm: a nude little girl (young girls being traditionally viewed as even more vulnerable and innocent than young boys) firmly gripping an instrument of pure destruction, a Parabellum pistol, and confidently pointing it straight ahead of her at some unseen target off-camera. Moreover, the Parabellum is not just any pistol–it is well-known for its use throughout WWI and WWII by German officers, giving it particularly dark and political connotations.* In fact, much of Saudek’s work has subtle political inferences in it, and he worked largely in secret during his early years to avoid being caught and his work seized by the Communist secret police.
The contrast is fascinating and, it must be said, gives the young girl (who looks something like a living baby doll in that ridiculously bright blond, outsized wig) a power she would not otherwise convey. We do notice, however, that her finger is not on the trigger, probably because her hand is simply too small, her finger too short to reach it. Her face is barely visible behind a stray lock of that crazy hair, adding an extra dimension of tension to the image. What is she thinking, we wonder. Does she know what she’s doing?
Jan Saudek (Official Site)
* Saudek is of Jewish origin and many of his relatives perished in the concentration camps. He and his twin brother (when they were children) and father were also sent to the camps late in the war, and they all survived. Saudek’s brother, Kája is now a famous artist in his own right, one of the preeminent comic book artists in Europe and the most notable one in his home country, the Czech Republic.