Samantha Everton’s Vintage Dolls

I must apologize to Arizona and Pigtails readers for not getting to this sooner.  Ideally, this would have been posted before Halloween.  -Ron

Back in 2015 Pip produced a Halloween themed post featuring the work of Samantha Everton. As this is not the artist’s only project to feature girls, I thought it would be a good idea to create another Halloween post featuring her series entitled ‘Vintage Dolls’, which also has a spooky feel to it.

Everton is a multi-awarded and exhibited photographic artist who completed a degree in photography at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. When she graduated in 2003, she was at the top of her class and had also received her first awards, one for having the Highest Aggregate Score Winner for photography students and the other was the Steve Vizard Most Creative Folio Award.

Samantha Everton – Adagio – (2008)

The creation of her photo shoots can sometimes take a year, from sketching the idea, finding the location, sourcing the props, then the models and even deciding on how the styling, hair and makeup appears. In her ‘Vintage Dolls’ shoot the house was the most time consuming prop to find, largely because Everton planned on partially demolishing it. After many months of searching she found a house that was about to be torn down, which also had an owner who was willing to give her complete control of the building. After signing a one month lease she set about changing the appearance of the place by putting up wallpaper, smashing holes in walls and planting a tree in the lounge room.

Samantha Everton – Masquerade – (2008)

The series ‘Vintage Dolls’ is a collection of twelve works depicting several children participating in a surreal game of dress-up and make believe, however the artist never explains the symbolism or narrative content of the images, instead leaving the viewer to guess the meaning behind the photographs. She does give some clues as she explains that:

The house had a ghostly feeling and remnants of a past life; it juxtaposed against the playfulness of the children … It’s like the children are in an attic and they’re play-acting but on a deeper level, I wanted to show how children interact with culture and how they absorb and re-enact what they see. I wanted there to be a child with whom each person could identify.

The two images below show how surreal some of these images can become with the aforementioned tree, featuring in Nocturne, and a levitating cat, appearing in Camellia.

Samantha Everton – Nocturne – (2008)

Samantha Everton – Camellia – (2008)

Each of these images are a meter in width and height, therefore some don’t transfer well to small image sizes. For example, in the image entitled Black Forest you cannot tell whether the child on the bed has her eyes open or not, even a small difference like this can change one’s interpretation of the artwork’s meaning. The reason for including it here is because it seems to be the favourite among these images. At the exhibition for this series when other images had either not sold, or had sold up to only three prints, the Black Forest had sold over six prints.

Samantha Everton – Black Forest – (2008)

While the symbolism to that image is complex and obscure, I cannot see beyond the Red Riding Hood imagery. The next is clearly about racism; in Party Dress a young girl stands in front of a mirror, in reality wearing western clothes, but in the reflection she wears the clothes of her home country. The image suggests that the girl is wishing that she was living in a place that is more accepting of her appearance.

Samantha Everton – Party Dress – (2008)

The next two artworks imply a desire to escape something. In Secret Garden one of the girls looks out a hole in the wall but is seemingly unable to get out there. Whereas in the Bewitching Hour one girl, who is the only child in the series to smile, literally takes flight on a flamingo, while the other unsmiling girl is stuck on a bird that stubbornly refuses to move.

Samantha Everton – Secret Garden – (2008)

Samantha Everton – Bewitching Hour – (2008)

The entire twelve images from this series can be seen on Samantha Everton’s website, though these images are rather small and nine larger images can be found at the Arthouse Gallery website. Additionally, if anyone else wants to share their theories about what any of these images could mean then please leave a comment below.

Two Hilarious Recreated Photos

Occasionally on the web you run into articles, often in listicle form, of captured moments from childhood being recreated years later for humorous effect. Sometimes these are awkward and creepy, but usually they’re pretty funny. Here are a couple I’ve pulled off the web recently.  The first one actually reverses the original scene, where the teen boy graduating from high school (I assume) is posing with his little sister. In the recreation, it is the sister graduating, and she’s holding her now much older brother.

Photographer Unknown – 10 Years Apart

The second image is pretty much just a straight recreation, but the original photo—obviously posed by a parent—is much funnier because of the contradictions. The sweet-natured smile on her face does not at all match with her gesture, or with the general context of the image. In the second one she doesn’t look nearly as innocent, of course, which I suppose was the point.

Photographer Unknown – 15 Years Later

Mabel Lucie Attwell

Mabel Lucie Attwell was born on the 4th of June, 1879, at Mile End, London, to Augustus and Emily Ann Attwell. The artist was always interested in drawing and had created a large collection of images by the time she graduated from school. Therefore, she thought that she may be able to sell some of her drawings to supplement her income. She approached an agency for artists who, though sceptical about the sale-ability of the drawings, took some of them. Within a month they had all sold and the agency was asking for more. Soon she was completing enough work, for various publishers, to live on and pay for her study fees.

Attwell spent five years studying art, first at Heatherley’s School of Art, then at St. Martin’s School of Art. The artist failed to complete either course as she had little interest in classical drawing and their other teaching styles, instead preferring to draw from her own imagination. The lack of qualifications did not prevent her from receiving illustrating contracts and was soon commissioned by W & R Chambers to illustrate a series of books. The first was entitled That Little Limb, written by May Baldwin and published in 1905. The image below is a drawing from this book, which when compared with her later illustrations is noticeably different both in style and skill.

Mabel Lucie Attwell – What For Did You Forsake Your Prince (1905)

Whilst studying at St. Martin’s she met Harold Earnshaw, whom she married in 1908. Through her husband’s contacts she came under the management of Francis and Mills, in 1910, and because of their extensive industry contacts and professional handling of her work she was always in demand. Her new managers expanded her work into new areas, which included poster, advertisement and magazine illustrations, with commissions for book work ongoing. The artist’s most recognised book illustrations appeared over the next twelve years; among these titles were Alice in Wonderland, The Water Babies, and Mother Goose. So desirable were her drawings that J.M. Barrie insisted that his publishers approach her and ask her to illustrate a gift book edition of his story Peter Pan and Wendy. The book went on to become a best-seller; the illustrations were some of the most detailed and artistically proficient drawings of her career. Barrie was not the only author to request that Attwell specifically illustrate a book; Marie, Queen of Romania, also requested her services. She provided drawings for two of Marie’s books entitled Peeping Pansy and The Lost Princess.

Mabel Lucie Attwell – Oh Dear! Oh Dear! I Shall Be Too Late (1910)

Mabel Lucie Attwell – Tom’s Escape (1915)

Mabel Lucie Attwell – May I Come In (1919)

Mabel Lucie Attwell – I Daresay it Will Hurt a Little (1921)

Many book researchers find it difficult to date books from this period since the date was not usually printed in them. However, Attwell has unwittingly provided another method for dating her works. In many of her books the artist would write a dedication to her children as well as draw an image of them, which corresponded to their current ages. For example, below is the frontispiece to The Water Babies. Taking into account that Marjorie was born in 1909, Peter in 1911 and Brian in 1914, it can be assumed this book was published in 1915.

Mabel Lucie Attwell – The Water Babies (Frontispiece) (1915)

In 1911 the illustrator began producing images for Valentine and Sons, a relationship that continued for the rest of her working life. During the 1920s she was producing twenty-four postcards a year for the company. In addition, other drawings were created for their greeting cards, calendars, jigsaw puzzles, plaques and booklets. The Valentine and Sons’ postcards became some of her most sought after as well as best-selling products. Her publishers reported that one design could sell half a million copies each month and they were sold globally.

Mabel Lucie Attwell – Just Look at Me — Fido (date unknown)

Mabel Lucie Attwell – Broken Doll (date unknown)

The commercial success of Attwell’s images was multifaceted. First there were her subjects: most of her images featured toddlers and young children and the appeal of childhood innocence made the images hugely desirable. Secondly the subjects were often portrayed in a sentimentalised way, which was a style that was hugely popular during the 1920s and ’30s. Additionally, the artist was highly professional when creating her works, often discarding several captions as inferior until she found one that she considered perfect and then created the image. Finally, when producing a design for a postcard she would design it specifically for an adult audience. The images would commonly feature the children in, or talking about, adult situations. I have frequently seen the artist describing this: “I see the child in the adult, then I draw the adult as a child …” which simultaneously sweetens, or makes more tolerable, what would normally be a controversial caption, while also making it somewhat humorous.

Mabel Lucie Attwell – Mary Maud Marigold Madeline Marty (date unknown)

In 1922 Cyril Gamon, a publisher, approached Attwell with an idea for producing a children’s book. She accepted and the resulting book The Lucie Attwell Annual became another of her hugely popular products, so much so that it was produced, through reuse of previous material, for a further ten years after her death. During this time it went through several name changes and publishers, which is a matter of confusion for new collectors. The original name was only used over four years, from 1922–26, then it changed titles to become Lucie Attwell’s Children’s Book, until 1932 when Dean and Son’s took over publication and changed the name to Lucie Attwell’s Annual. The drawings that appeared in this book were more simply drawn than her others, largely because the audience had no interest in image quality and it made production many times quicker. The artist drew all of the annual herself and wrote many of the stories and verses.

Mabel Lucie Attwell – Lucie Attwell Annual (Cover) (Date unknown)

Throughout the ’30s and ’40s her popularity and diversity of her products increased. Now there were soft toys and nursery tea sets, based largely on her Boo-Boo characters, in addition to plates, biscuit tins and teapots. Additionally,there were china figurines, made by Shelley Pottery and assorted dolls. The artist’s output started to slow down in the 1940s.  By then she was sixty years old and had large royalties coming in. Yet she maintained her perfectionism and the quality of her images never really diminished. One of her new commissions was a comic strip for the London Opinion entitled Wot a Life.

Mabel Lucie Attwell died on the 5th of November 1964. During her lifetime she created a massive catalogue of work, providing images for over eighty books, in addition to forty of the Lucie Attwell annuals, over five hundred postcard designs and countless advertisement and poster illustrations. Most of her work was done in watercolour in conjunction with pen and ink. Since she had children, she got many of her illustration ideas from normal family occurrences; she also had access to a large number of children to use as models, with many of her friends’ children and her own nieces and nephews on hand. A lot of the images seem to use her daughter Marjorie, more commonly named Peggy, as the model. Compare the following two images as an example: one is of Marjorie, the other is a postcard entitled ‘Time for Bed.’

Mabel Lucie Attwell – Portrait of Marjorie “Peggy” Attwell (date unknown)

Mabel Lucie Attwell – Time for Bed (date unknown)

There are few resources available for researching this artist and many refer back to the one book, which is also the same book I am basing most of my facts on. The book is entitled Mabel Lucie Attwell, written by Chris Beetles and published by Pavilion Books in 1988. It takes most of its information directly from her descendants and the illustrator’s own personal papers, whilst also displaying approximately sixty of her images. The online resources I used, though brief and occasionally inaccurate are listed below.

Additional online resources:

A Specialty for Children: Girls in Vintage Soap Ads, Pt. 2 (Pears Soap)

The second part of our Girls in Vintage Soap Ads series deals with one of the oldest soap companies in the business, Pears. The company was named after its founder Andrew Pears, a London-based barber, who perfected a purifying method for soap in the early 1800s and produced the world’s first translucent soap for the mass market. Pears is still going strong, though it is now based in India and is owned by Hindustan Unilever, a subsidiary of Unilever proper.

With the company’s history established, let’s move on to the advertising art. I can’t make out the artist’s name in our first piece, but I’ve found multiple copies of it online, including both black & white and color versions. The color version required a good deal of clean-up in Photoshop, but I think the results were well worth it.

Artist Unknown – Pears Soap – The Order of the Bath (1887)

Artist Unknown – Pears Soap – A Specialty for Children (1893)

Here we have another unknown artist or date, but the style is quintessentially Victorian, so I’m dating it to around the 1880s-90s.

Artist Unknown – Good Morning! Have You Used Pears Soap

Here’s another Victorian image, and again, this required a lot of clean-up to remove the watermark, as well as fix some wear and tear. I do have a black & white version with the same watermark I could’ve posted, but I had already invested a few hours in cleaning up images and did not want to delay this post further. Maybe some day I will clean it up and stick it in here.

Artist Unknown – Pears Soap – How do you spell soap dear?

Another late Victorian offering. This is actually a riff on an earlier and better known ad campaign by the same company in which a crying baby is climbing out of his tub and trying to reach the soap. (You can see a version of that ad here.) The implication in this ad, however, would likely be controversial today, for good reason.

Artist Unknown – Pears Soap – He won’t be happy till he gets it! (1897)

Here are a couple more pieces dating from around the same time period. The first one is cute, but I particularly like the second one. It seems to have been heavily influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite painting style.

Artist Unknown – Pears Soap – Matchless for the Complexion (1)

Artist Unknown – Pears Soap – Matchless for the Complexion (2)

Pears was well known for using existing art in their ad campaigns, right from their first major one, which was based on Giovanni Focardi’s sculpture You dirty boy!  Other examples utilized famous paintings, most famously Frederick Morgan‘s His Turn Next!

Frederick Morgan – Pears Soap – The Bath–His Turn Next! (1)

Frederick Morgan – Pears Soap – The Bath–His Turn Next! (2)

Other ads were based on Briton Rivière‘s Naughty Boy, or Compulsory Education (I’ve also seen it listed on the web as The Reading Lesson, and as having been painted by Charles Burton Barber, but I’m sure this is incorrect—Barber made plenty of paintings featuring little girls and dogs, but this was not one of them) and Émile Munier‘s En pénitence, better known as Sugar and Spice in the Anglo world. For the latter I am including a simple reproduction of the actual painting as I have always found it quite charming. The first ad is pretty much just a straight reproduction of the Rivière painting anyway, save for a tiny Pears logo in the bottom right-hand corner.

Briton Rivière – Pears Soap – Naughty Boy

Émile Munier – En pénitence (Sugar and Spice) (1897)

Émile Munier – Pears Soap ad

This next piece, based on Frederick Morgan’s Over the Garden Wall, although not labeled as an ad, appeared in the Pears Annual (calendar), which could be considered a form of advertising. It also would fit comfortably in my Cherry Ripe! post, as the cherries hint at the erotic—or pre-erotic in this case—which is echoed in the boy’s stolen kiss, a fairly common theme in lighter Victorian art (see also the above ad, He won’t be happy till he gets it!)

Frederick Morgan – Pears Soap – Over the Garden Wall

This illustration I feel fairly confidant in dating to either the Edwardian era or slightly after.

Artist Unknown – Pears Transparent Soap – Matchless for the Complexion

This is probably my favorite of the Pears ads, and it was done by an obscure artist named Bruno Ximenes. Unfortunately, it was very difficult to find a decent version of this image. I actually downloaded several versions of this ad at varying qualities, but eventually I narrowed it down to two, and I’m sharing them both. Unfortunately, the best version—the first one here—had a very prominent watermark that had to be removed, and the image required a lot of experimenting to get it to look just right. I hope you guys appreciate the efforts I go to to make sure you get high-quality images. 😉

Bruno Ximenes – Pears Soap – I’d forgotten my Pears! (1)

Bruno Ximenes – Pears Soap – I’d forgotten my Pears! (2)

Early twentieth century ads frequently incorporated both illustration and photography, as is the case here.

Artist Unknown – Pears Soap – Pears Stands Every Test (1908)

This is an excellent transition point as we move into the photographic era proper. Throughout the first half and middle of the twentieth century, Pears’ major campaign focused on little girls and used the tagline: Preparing to be a Beautiful Lady. Obviously such a campaign would not fly today, but it was incredibly successful for the company for decades. This was also done in conjunction with another brilliant campaign that lasted even longer: an annual contest to find Miss Pears, the little girl who would represent the company for the coming year and would often appear in Pears advertisements.

Photographer Unknown – Pears Soap – Preparing to be a Beautiful Lady (1934)

Photographer Unknown – Pears Soap – Preparing to be a Beautiful Lady (1945)

Photographer Unknown – Pears Soap – Preparing to be a Beautiful Lady (1950)

Photographer Unknown – £500 for the Little Girl Who Takes My Place – Woman’s Own (February, 1960)

Photographer Unknown – Pears Soap – Will your little girl be Miss Pears 1965

Photographer Unknown – Pear Soap – Miss Pears 1967

British painter Louis Turpin apparently painted one of the Miss Pears girls in 1986. I couldn’t find any info on the image, so it could just be that the child’s surname happens to be Pears, but it would be unusual to name her Miss Pears in such a portrait, given how famous the contest was, if she wasn’t actually a Miss Pears, so I’m sharing it.

Louis Turpin – Miss Pears on a Lutyens Chair, 1986

Nino Firetto – Little Miss Pears 1987

The Miss Pears Contest ended for good in 1996 as media purveyors became more sensitive to the issue of child sexualization.

Finally, we have a couple of television commercials. As I pointed out at the beginning of the article, the company is now based in India, which means India is now its primary market. As such, most of the ads for Pears are now Indian, including these two.

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Pears Germ Shield Soap TV ad

99 44/100% Adorable: Girls in Vintage Soap Ads, Pt. 1 (Ivory Soap)

There is no shortage of vintage advertisements with adorable little girls in them, but those old soap ads seem to be particularly charming. And it so happens that there are tons of them from the major soap brands like Sunlight, Packer’s, Fairy, and most prominently, Pears, easily found on the web. We’ll get to all of these in upcoming posts, but today’s post is devoted exclusively to one of the biggest soap brands of all time, Ivory.

Ivory Soap was first manufactured by the J.B. Williams Company in 1840 under the name Ivorine, but this didn’t last long. The company soon sold its rights to the soap to Procter & Gamble, who eventually changed its name to Ivory. Ivory Soap is known for two famous slogans, “It Floats” and “99 44100% Pure.”  The latter was especially popular for years.  In the ’50s and ’60s their main slogan became “That Ivory Look”, which was associated with the smooth skin of infants and considered the ideal for women.

Most of the early ads were of course illustrated, often by some of the most notable names in the business. One of those was Irving Ramsey Wiles. While he later became a successful portraitist, his early career was largely devoted to magazine and ad illustration, such as the following two variants of the same piece:

Irving Ramsey Wiles – Baby’s Ivory Bath ad (1898)(1)

Irving Ramsey Wiles – Baby’s Ivory Bath ad (1898)(2)

Another major illustrator who did illustrations for Ivory Soap was the ever-prolific Jessie Willcox Smith.  Here are three from her all done right around the turn of the twentieth century.  Note: a full-color illustration by Smith also featured in an ad for one of Ivory’s major competitors, Pears.  It’s already been posted here once, but I will likely link to it again when I make the Pears post.

Jessie Willcox Smith – Ivory Soap ad (1)(1902)

Jessie Willcox Smith – Ivory Soap ad (2)(1902)

Jessie Willcox Smith – Ivory Soap ad (3)

This next piece, although labeled as a Smith illustration when I found it, is not actually her work.  The artist’s name in the bottom left-hand corner, although difficult to make out, appears to be Albert Herter, which makes sense as Herter was definitely a contemporary of Smith and is known to have been a prolific illustrator in his own right.  And although all of the advertising info has been cropped out, you can see that the theme of the piece is the children’s bath.  The young woman here looks to have her hands full with all the kids waiting to be scrubbed clean by her.

Albert Herter – Ivory Soap ad

Yet another highly productive illustrator who did several pieces for Ivory Soap was Alice Beach Winter.  Although no dates are given for any of these, we can judge from the style, and from what we know of Winter, that these are either from the Edwardian period or slightly later.

Alice Beach Winter – Ivory Soap ad (1)

Alice Beach Winter – Ivory Soap ad (2)

Alice Beach Winter – Ivory Soap ad (3)

I do not know the artist for this next illustration, but again, it’s from the same time period.

Artist Unknown – Ivory Soap ad (1916)

Our final Golden Age illustrator is Clara Elsene Peck.  Like Jessie Willcox Smith, Peck focused primarily on the lives of women and children, which made her a natural fit for illustrating Ivory Soap ads.  I especially like this first piece, which I’m posting two different versions of.

Clara Elsene Peck – Ivory Soap ad (1)(1918)

Clara Elsene Peck – Ivory Soap ad (2)(1918)

Clara Elsene Peck – Ivory Soap ad (3)

And now we move on to the era of photography with a trio of ads featuring images by unidentified photographers.  By the ’50s it became fairly commonplace for advertisers to stop displaying the names of artists, especially photographers.

Photographer Unknown – Ivory Soap ad (1951)

Photographer Unknown – Ivory Soap ad (1959)

Photographer Unknown – Ivory Soap – You can have That Ivory Look in just 7 days

But here is one of the exceptions.  Francesco Scavullo’s work was so well-known and prestigious in the ’60s and ’70s that he has been identified as the photographer in these ads.  The idea of mothers competing with their little daughters to look youthful would later become controversial with feminists, of course.

Francesco Scavullo – Ivory Soap – Can you compete with your daughter’s “Little Girl Look”? (1)

Francesco Scavullo – Ivory Soap – Can you compete with your daughter’s “Little Girl Look”? (2)

Edit: I had intended to add this to the post originally, but it was not yet ready. So I am adding it now.  I had another commercial I wanted to post but its size exceeds the limit for upload so I will simply link to it. – Pip

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Ivory Soap Commercial (1960)

 

Two Photos by Francesco Scavullo

Francesco Scavullo was a well-known fashion photographer whose most noteworthy work was done in the ’60s and ’70s. These include a series on actress and model Brooke Shields which began when she was still a toddler and progressed on through her young adult years. One of the images from that series can be seen below. Often when this image is displayed online, it is cropped just above Shields’s nipples; it’s rare to see the full image. Shields is, of course, known for her roles in such films as Pretty Baby, The Blue Lagoon and Wanda Nevada, as well as numerous television roles.

Francesco Scavullo – Brooke Shields (1975)

Around the same time Scavullo photographed another young girl, Yasmine Bleeth, who had not yet become an actress but was destined to become famous herself, mainly for her roles in soap operas and in the TV show Baywatch.

Francesco Scavullo – Yasmine Bleeth (1975)

Scavullo photographed many other famous models and celebrities throughout his life. In fact, the 82-year-old Scavullo was on his way to photograph an up-and-coming news anchor named Anderson Cooper when he died of heart failure in 2004. His life partner, Sean Byrnes, has survived him. Mr. Scavullo also took photos for advertisements, at least one of which will appear in my next major post, which will be about girls in vintage soap ads.

Portraits from a Jungle Paradise – Karolin Klüppel

Karolin Klüppel is a German artist, who to date has produced four albums of work. One of these series is called ‘Mädchenland’ and is set within the village of Mawlynnong, part of the Indian state of Meghalaya. The people of this area are known as the Khasi and are a matrilineal society, whereby the line of succession passes through the youngest daughter and results in women being the main landholders. If the daughter marries then her husband moves into her family’s house and any children that are born take their mother’s name; there is no stigma or disapproval if a woman chooses to stay single. As only daughters can assure the continuity of a clan, women are respected and protected within the Khasi community. However the society is only matrilineal, not matriarchal, as the men still lead Mawlynnong’s village council and are the main employees within the security services.

Karolin Klüppel – Wanda on the Stairs to the Treehouse (2013)

Karolin Klüppel – Prosperity (2013)

Karolin Klüppel – Phida With Balloon (2013)

The photographer spent nine months living with various families in the village. During this time the villagers became comfortable with her presence, which allowed for the creation of some intimate and natural looking photographs. She chose to take portrait photographs of the young girls, rather than making a photo-documentation of the society, as

I did not want to do a classical documentary on their culture, … I decided to make a portrait series of the girls because I was so impressed by their self-assured appearance and thought that this must be how matrilineality becomes visible.

The images show the children as they interact, play or simply stand within their environment and homes, thereby displaying Mawlynnong’s physical beauty just as much as the girl’s individual beauty. These girls do get schooling, first in the village school until their teens, then they travel to the state capital for higher education, after which they can choose to go to college or return to Mawlynnong.

Karolin Klüppel – Ibapyntngen in the Cottage (2013)

Karolin Klüppel – Yasmin Taking Bath at the River (2013)

Karolin Klüppel – Yasmin With Mug (2013)

After its inaugural exhibition ‘Mädchenland’ has gone on to become a multi-awarded and exhibited series and was also published as a book entitled Kingdom of Girls. ‘Mädchenland’ is Karolin’s second series that is focused on a matrilineal society with her previous work, entitled ‘Dabu’, documenting the elderly Mosuo, who live around Lugu Lake, part of China’s Yunnan and Sichuan provinces. A more detailed article about Mädchenland, with fourteen high resolution images, can be found on The New Heroes and Pioneers website.

Compelling Images: Henri Cartier-Bresson

Henri Cartier-Bresson – Aquila, Abruzzo, Italy, 1951

Difficult and unspectacular, the Distant Figure is a motif that, by its very nature, demands neglect.

Yet it is a motif that we constantly encounter in our lives and which provokes strong emotions: when we leave our homes, are not most of the people we see far away? And have we not all had dreams in which the sight of a friend walking away, unaware of our presence, too far off to hear us calling, fills us with unbearable melancholy and loneliness?

Distant figures are also surprisingly common in art, especially in photography: the further away the camera probes the more the world is promiscuous, the more space there is for some stray figure to occupy. If the challenge of Still-Life is, what to include within a constrained setting, the challenge of Landscape Photography is, what to do when one has no power to exclude, but only to wait or change one’s viewpoint.

We respond in interestingly different ways to distant figures in photography and distant figures in real life.

In real life we know that a child who occupies only a fraction of a percent of our field of vision is no less a person than the child whose hand we are holding. And we know that in real life the distance can be bridged by taking suitable measures, such as calling out, waving, running or sometimes just waiting.

But in photography the distant figure will never come closer or be reached: physical distance becomes existential distance. And as figures recede, first their individuality then their humanity is lost. Further on they register as just blurs and smears. Finally they disappear.

In Cartier-Bresson’s photograph every girl in the scene has noticed the photographer—who, being 42 when he took this photograph, was still young enough to catch a girl’s eye. Everyone else seems oblivious to him. As if to underline this, the only adult eyes we are in a position to see are crossed out by the wire-work arch at the bottom of the steps.

The three girls stood in front of the church door engaged with the photographer from a distance that balances caution and curiosity. Above them we read the invocation to the Virgin Mary, ‘Ora pro nobis’. According to ancient Jewish custom Mary was betrothed to Joseph at the age of 12—not much older than the eldest of these girls.

One of the girls is making a gesture reminiscent of the women carrying trays of loaves on their heads, and which echos the metal arch in the foreground, the lintel above the church door and the curve of the distant mountain. Her gesture at first appears playful and balletic. But a closer inspection reveals that she is actually holding in place upon her head something large and dark. Her gesture is one of burden, not of grace.

A fourth girl has turned a corner and is emerging ‘de profundis’. Her upturned face catches the light and is joyful, as if she had just turned the corner and recognised the distant man with a camera as a long-lost friend.

Random Image: Marina Castillo

I must admit, like Charles Dodgson, I have a weakness for images that illustrate concepts in mathematics and logic.  This image was appropriated for a module on proportions in the United States; namely, the size of the image varies inversely as its distance from the observer (or the camera).

Marina Castillo – Midiendo fuerzas … (2012)

Marina Castillo lives in Mendoza, Argentina and this image is part of a series called ‘Scenes of dwarfs and giants’.  One cannot be completely sure, but it does appear that these scenes were constructed conventionally and not digitized.  If so, then a special setting or lens would have to have been used to maintain a depth of focus for the subjects in the frame.  This one which means “balancing forces” has the additional appeal of being a nod to girl power.