A censored deer and balloon. Or was it the red hair…? A comparison of four Dutch Female Photographers

The last few years, I visited expositions of some Dutch (female) photographers that have in common the theme of the portraiture of girls. For the most part, they are in a kind of quiet, intimate, minimal, unstarched style, in natural light, intended to portray the girl herself. There was no idea of deep meaning beyond the fact of the model—however valid a deeper expression may be. So we are speaking of a simple portraiture of the girls—within the bounds of the photographer’s creativity. There is none of the emphasis on light and darkness, symbolism, mythology, etc. This is quite different from the work of say, Jan Saudek or Irina Ionesco: no touch of heaven or purgatory. Consequently, it does not really matter whether the photos were taken “en plein air” or in a studio.

One of them, Vivian Keulards, has been censored for two bare portraits (or was it the red hair?). This case seems to be a matter of the eye of the beholder. Judge for yourself, along with a few other examples of her work and the work of three others. Originally, I had only wanted to write about Keulards because I read in a newspaper that two of her portraits—including one of her daughter—has been removed from an expo in the Art Gallery in the WTC, The Hague. A similarity with some other photographers came to mind. This was a good occasion to show something that was going on that had nothing to do with whether there was some kind of typically Dutch style of photography. This question might be better discussed in another post.

Photographers like Ata Kandó, who died only last September, whose work—at least her books with her children Dream in the Forest and Kalypso & Nausikaä—might be called fictional, fairy tale-like, mythological—apart from it being a kind of fashion photography with her children. That is to say, there are moments of reality that appear unexpectedly. In that ‘light’, what happened to Keulards is a repetition of ‘darkening’ history. In an interview Kandó tells (translated from Dutch):

There was actually no money for it, but I felt that my children were entitled to go on vacation, and that’s why we went hitchhiking. I like to photograph children, because they are photogenic and sweet. In prudish Paris they didn’t want to publish Dream in the Forest. The girls had no breasts yet, but stood on the picture with bare upper-body and the French media found that it had to do with sex. I was very angry about that, for me that work was totally poetic and innocent, like in a fairy tale.

Here two pictures from Dream in the Forest. I tried my best to find a ‘decent’ and an ‘indecent’ one.

Ata Kandó – Dream in the Forest ‘Madeleine and Thomas Kandó’ (1957)

Ata Kandó – Dream in the Forest ‘Ferns’ (1957)

Here the two images of Keulards, who would not have been censored without bare upper torso, with other work by her, who could have been censored as well, if these had also showed bare torsos.

Vivian Keulards – Dear Noortje (2010-2013)

Vivian Keulards – Marc Anthony (c2013)

Vivian Keulards – Taryn & Olivia (2013)

Vivian Keulards – Eimear (2014) [Bookcover of Flaming Grace, 2017]

Vivian Keulards – Eline (2013)

Vivian Keulards says about her series and book:

For years now I’ve been fascinated by red-headed children. In 2007, I made the first portraits in the series ‘Flaming Grace’. Until today I’ve photographed many red-headed children, not only in The Netherlands, but also in the US and Ireland. Why? Simply because I think they’re breathtakingly beautiful! I find these children mystical and magical and they push my creativity to the max. They’re visual poetry to me! Along the way I learned a lot about the red hair MCR1-gene and heard many stories and myths. Some people say redheads will likely be extinct in the next 100 years. This is because the gene is not dominant enough to survive. I don’t know if it’s true, but if so, I might even have written history.

The other artists did not focus on red-headed children, but I found a few examples and added them at the end—excepting Kandó whose work is mainly in black and white.

Rineke Dijkstra – Kolobrzeg, Poland (1992) / Sandro Botticeli – The Birth of Venus (c1483)

Rineke Dijkstra – Marianna (The Fairy Doll) (2014)

This is a film still from a video installation I saw in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, in a ‘black box’ rather than a ‘white cube’.

Rineke Dijkstra – Marianna And Sasha Kingisepp, Russia (2014)

Rineke Dijkstra – Coney Island, NY USA (1993)

Pip Starr commented on this last image by Dijkstra:

This is a strange image. The little girl is topless, which is odd considering the time and place the photo was taken: Coney Island, New York in the early ’90s. Unlike in Europe or other parts of the world, little girls going topless at an American beach is highly unusual, to say the least. Moreover, bucking the usual trend for these kinds of photos, this girl does not appear to be very happy. She’s frowning, and her arms are crossed defensively. Award-winning photographer Rineke Dijkstra is Dutch, but perhaps her subject here was not, and while Dijkstra clearly saw nothing out of the ordinary in having this girl pose topless, the girl herself seems less than thrilled at the prospect. Then again, the little redhead could be upset about something entirely unrelated. Who knows? This subject is now an adult, and I’d be curious to learn what was actually going on in her head at the time this was taken

Most of Rineke Dijkstra’s portraits are poses like this. Seriously, whether topless or not (with or without red hair), Dijkstra created a whole series of child and adolescent portraits, in bathing suits at the beach. Some seem to be topless and would have been more usual on a Dutch beach. About her models she said:

With young people everything is much more on the surface—all the emotions. When you get older you know how to hide things.

Hellen van Meene – Untitled (2012 – 2014)

Hellen van Meene – Untitled (2014)

Hellen van Meene – Untitled (1997)

Hellen van Meene has worked with many models, but I choose to present here two of the same model, with dogs and one earlier work with a red-haired girl. Maybe she is the least unstarched, compared with Keulards, Dijkstra and Bouma—though also with natural light. In comparison, van Meene is more dreamy, like Kandó, but more awake. Maybe even a kind of sweet, dry humour, with her series on ‘Dogs and Girls’ in mind. There was some biographical basis for this: as a child, she had been bitten by a dog. The decision to embark on this series featuring dogs came as a surprise even to her.

Here is some more about her work and one of her books, The Years Shall Run Like Rabbits. Here van Meene mentions that she does not find it important to identify her models, therefore her work is mostly untitled. Her careful staged images seem to want to capture moments in time, but with a sense of timelessness. Indeed, these girls (and dogs) are without a clear sense of time or place. The girls, though, can be different on another day, especially when they are in-between and growing up. I experience these portraits as portraits of the girls themselves—modelled, yes, but after themselves.

Aline Bouma – (Title unknown) (c2016)

Aline Bouma – Eva (c 2016)

Aline Bouma – Marjolein (c2016)

Dimitri – Exposition Aline Bouma in the City Theatre Utrecht (2017)

Aline Bouma, 25, had an exposition titled Twelve in the Utrecht City Theatre. It was her exam project as a documentary photographer.

Here is a comment about it that, unfortunately, can no longer be found online:

12 / 24 – What goes on in the world of twelve-year-old girls? Are they already having their first crush? Or are they climbing to the top of the tallest trees? When Aline Bouma reached this fascinating age, her mother passed away, causing all these fleeting memories of being twelve to become a giant blur. Her father had stopped taking photographs, and so there is no visual account of this period of her life. The only things that remain of these memories are small diary fragments that she kept as a girl. What she must have looked like back then is a mystery, with just her imagination and memories that have been warped throughout the years as all she has left to go on. With this project, Aline brings you into the, for her, unknown world of twelve-year-old girls. By photographing them, she creates an indirect self-portrait in which she tries to rediscover the year that had been lost to her.

Why have the two portraits of Vivian Keulards been taken away? Was it because the boy holding a balloon in front of his head was topless with a bare torso—or perhaps it was the red hair? The hair of the girl, holding deer antlers on her head, also topless, was red as well—or rather dark blonde. Someone or ones unknown working at this WTC took offense of it. Whoever it was, I assume what plays a role is, that this is a gallery within the context of this WTC. In the Netherlands there are a few such WTCs, roughly modelled after those in New York.

Now that these actions have taken place, one’s gaze can now be thought of as “spoiled” when it would not otherwise have been. Why should one’s gaze be tainted by looking at a serious but playful picture of this girl holding her deer antlers—bare and topless notwithstanding? Come on! Maybe one thought it would be a distraction. Can we no longer allow these portraits to speak for themselves or are business interests so paramount that these companies dare not risk losing commercial clients? Now it is impossible to say what my first impression would have been, now that these have been taken away from the display. On the other hand, without it, I might not have heard about it and seen it at all. My best guess is that my first impression would have been that it is merely a girl with deer antlers and would have pondered the mysterious mixture of her playful yet serious gaze. Is there something about her pose or her physical appearance that is supposed to be erotic? In truth, I do not even find it really sensual; and even if it were, what of it? An artist contributes to her cultural paradigm and should not be taken away assuming it has not been produced by abusive means.

None of this was ever the photographer’s intention. Keulards shares her own account of what happened (translated into English):

Last weekend, I got a phone call from WTC The Hague Art Gallery that they took two of my portraits off the wall. Since October 19th, two photo series hang on the walls of the gallery: “Flaming Grace” (portraits of red-haired children) and “Bloody Mary and Sloppy Joe” (documentary portraits of my time in the US). Business people walk by my work daily as the gallery is located within a commercial environment. An international company, renting an office within the WTC, complained that they think two images in my exhibition are offensive. It concerns portraits of two children with bare upper bodies: a red-haired little boy and the other one is my own daughter. The gallery has decided, after consultation with the WTC Executive Board, to take these images off the wall. They said they had no choice, they needed to respect the decisions of WTC.

The entire weekend I was upset because of this action. Of course, photography and art are a matter of taste, you’ll find something beautiful, or not. But to qualify my work as offensive? That’s a comment I heard for the first time. I became emotional after hearing about this, but it took very little time to discover where this feeling came from. These portraits, that I made from the heart, where I tried to show beauty and innocence, have become infected. That makes me sad. Who on earth looks at these portraits this way? At my own child? What goes around in these viewers’ heads? That’s what gives me the chills!

That what these viewers see, and what I have intended to capture, are miles apart from each other. Through my eyes there’s nothing, absolutely nothing sexual or offensive in these portraits. The fact that someone sees something totally different says a lot about this person. To let this issue pass me by silently felt very wrong. I have to stand up for myself and my work. In fact, I also need to stand up for our community of professional photographers. Creative freedom suffers when we do not speak up. Where do you draw the line between what is acceptable and what is not? A difficult discussion in these times, but I do know that I find the vision of this company heavily exaggerated, hypocritically prudish and narrow-minded. When I made this portrait of my daughter in 2010, she was six years old. She was like a fish in water in the nature of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. Together with a friend they were pretending to be deer, holding the antlers to their heads. As a mother, I found this touching to watch. I saw my fragile girl happy and confident again in this outdoor setting, and this after a difficult time as a preschooler in the Netherlands. That’s what I put in this portrait and nothing else! My images often leave room for interpretation. In fact, it cannot be otherwise, because everyone looks at images with their own filter, their own luggage filled with experiences, education, upbringing, standards and values. However, I find it insulting that my images are found offensive. I simply don’t understand. This just happened in the Netherlands, where we still had a high standard of openmindedness and tolerance. Which is exactly why I want to share this story. If we do not raise our voices on these kinds of issues, against this censorship, even coming from a commercial, business world, we create a ridiculous taboo. This is not what we want.

Maybe the artist should have taken away the rest of her art from this gallery; the artist deliberately left her pictures there with two empty places till the end of the expo. I went there to find the two empty spaces on the wall where the photos once hung. At least I found most probably one.

Dimitri – Empty place in the spotlight (2017)

These pictures come from two series. ‘80349, Bloody Mary and Sloppy Joe’, about her time starting in 2010 in America. The second is ‘Flaming Grace’, portraits of red-haired children, compiled in a book of the same title. The series was originally titled ‘Elusive Beauty’.

Keulards writes that her portraits are staged. Probably that is what I see in them: serious, deep gazes. Sure, they are posed, but not merely so. It is as if the photographer was waiting until she could see a kind of drama—an elusive grace. Although the artist’s daughter does not actually have red hair, two souls with ‘flaming grace’ were taken away from this expo, and therewith its soul; for who might have walked by wondering about the white, empty parts of the wall that could not handle the weight of such portraits. Rather silly for a wall, don’t you think?

The Girls of Summer, Pt. 2

Well, I was planning to do an article on the Ana Torrent film El nido first, but I haven’t even got the film stills ready yet, so I will do it later this month.  Meanwhile, I’ll go ahead and get this out of the way, because I know some of you have been eagerly anticipating it.  So let’s get started, shall we?

The first two pieces are from a Russian photographer I’ve featured before, who went by the name Mastadont at whatever photography site I pulled these from.  The first piece is a reference to a character from Slavic mythology, a water nymph called a Rusalka.  But I especially like the second image.  It’s a lively piece, and one of the little girls almost seems to be dancing atop the rainbow that dissects the image.

Mastadont - In the Lake Swam Rusalka

Mastadont – In the Lake Swam Rusalka

Mastadont - (Title Unknown)

Mastadont – (Title Unknown)

Photodom: Mastodont

Now here’s a painting by Donald Zolan, who is known for producing highly popular if somewhat kitschy paintings of children.  Any one of dozens of his works could fit into this post, but I really like this one of a young girl stooping down to get a better look at a monarch caterpillar.  Zolan will eventually get an entire post devoted to his work, but for now we’ll have to settle for this one.  The artist himself passed away in 2009, but his art lives on and is as popular as ever.

Donald Zolan - Small Wonder

Donald Zolan – Small Wonder

The Zolan Company (official site)

This is a strange image.  The little girl is topless, which is odd considering the time and place the photo was taken: Coney Island, New York in the early ’90s.  Unlike in Europe or other parts of the world, little girls going topless at an American beach is highly unusual, to say the least.  Moreover, bucking the usual trend for these kinds of photos, this girl does not appear to be very happy.  She’s frowning, and her arms are crossed defensively.  Award-winning photographer Rineke Dijkstra is Dutch, but perhaps her subject here was not, and while Dijkstra clearly saw nothing out of the ordinary in having this girl pose topless, the girl herself seems less than thrilled at the prospect.  Then again, the little redhead could be upset about something entirely unrelated.  Who knows?  This subject is now an adult, and I’d be curious to learn what was actually going on in her head at the time this was taken.

Rineke Dijkstra - Coney Island, NY, USA, July 9, 1993

Rineke Dijkstra – Coney Island, NY, USA, July 9, 1993

Wikipedia: Rineke Dijkstra

This image has appeared on the blog before in one of the old Random Image of the Day posts, but I have eliminated that post and brought the image into this one.  I know nothing about the photographer.  This is another image I picked up from a photography site, probably Russian.  I am intrigued by the girl’s pose—she stares up at the sky with a smile, and seems to wave at someone there, perhaps a passing angel, her hand lambent in the sunlight.  I only wish the photo was slightly larger.

Tony Chiodo - Angelic

Tony Chiodo – Angelic

Frank Owen Salisbury’s work has appeared on this blog before as well.  The interesting thing about Salisbury is that he was a conservative hardcore Methodist and a serious portraitist who painted the likes of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Queen Elizabeth II, Winston Churchill and even John Wesley (the founder of Methodism) himself.  And yet, Salisbury also painted this beautiful piece featuring two nude young girls.  In fact, the girls were Salisbury’s own twin daughters, Monica and Sylvia.  What?!  Imagine, a man like Salisbury presenting his own preteen daughters to the world without a stitch!

Ah, but alas, how differently we have come to look upon the nude child since Salisbury’s time.  Today a religious conservative like Salisbury would likely be protesting such images rather than painting them.  One thing I’d like to point out here: although it’s subtle, if you look at the blond twin’s wrist, you can see she is wearing a very thin bracelet, an item that  ever so slightly anchors this image to modernity.  Finally, it is notable that the original version of this painting is currently housed at the National Trust Museum of Childhood, part of Sudbury Hall in Derbyshire, England, which looks like an altogether fabulous place to visit if you’re ever in that part of England.

Frank Owen Salisbury - Wonders of the Sea (1912)

Frank Owen Salisbury – Wonders of the Sea (1912)

Wikipedia: Frank Owen Salisbury

British photographer and art film director Tacita Dean took the next shot that focuses on a couple of toddlers who have clearly been enjoying a dip in a pool or pond or some such.  Is it just me or does the little blond girl’s costume look to be crocheted or knitted?  Whatever it is, it’s an odd choice for swimwear. Perhaps these outfits were not intended as bathing costumes at all and the water frolicking was all rather impromptu.  This image has the warm, fuzzy feel of a snapshot from a family photo.  Or, it could be a subtle advertisement for Johnson’s Baby Lotion.

Tacita Dean - Baby Lotion (2000)

Tacita Dean – Baby Lotion (2000)

Tacita Dean (official site)

Wikipedia: Tacita Dean

The following piece was scanned from The Family of Children, a book I’ve drawn from before.  The book contains another image of this girl from the same shoot, a closeup (bust and head) portrait, but I think this one is much more interesting.  The girl looks to be preparing for a swim while a young couple (her parents?) make out on the ground behind her, completely oblivious to the girl’s presence.  This image may have been shot at the original Woodstock festival—it has the right feel. I’m sure it comes from the hippie era: late ’60s/early ’70s.  Because the source image was small, this is a little grainier than I’d prefer.  I used the Gaussian blur feature in Photoshop to eliminate the halftone, but I didn’t want to overdo it or too much detail would’ve been lost.  It’s a fine balancing act.

The photo was taken by Joan Liftin, who isn’t terribly well-represented on the web but should be.  She has, in the course of her career, worked for the likes of the International Center of Photography, Magnum Photos and UNICEF, and she has edited books on other photographers such as Mary Ellen Mark, Charles Harbutt and Andrea Stern.

Joan Liftin - (Title Unknown)

Joan Liftin – (Title Unknown)

This next piece is a digital photo-manipulation piece by DeviantArt user Kayceeus.  She works with stock photos and creates collages that she then manipulates until they resemble paintings.  This one is particularly good, and had I not known, I might easily have mistaken this for an actual photo-realistic painting.

Kayceeus - Summer Fun

Kayceeus – Summer Fun

DeviantArt: Kayceeus

These next two photos are by Helen Eleeva.  Because of the girl’s movement and the tilted angle in each, these images are dynamic.  In the first photo, the girl is running along the beach with her dog.  Caught mid-stride, she appears to float over the beach.  In the second photo, we see her with arms outstretched and hair fanned out.  Is she pretending to be a helicopter?  Note how the other (tiny) figures in the shot have been relegated to the far upper right-hand corner.  It’s an odd composition, to be sure, but it mostly works.

A lot of images by this artist can be found here.  The particular images shown here are on page 33 (as of 150925) and the girl appears in at least 5 other photographs. Her work also appears here, here and here.

Helen Eleeva - (Title Unknown) (1)

Helen Eleeva – (Title Unknown) (1)

Helen Eleeva - (Title Unknown) (2)

Helen Eleeva – (Title Unknown) (2)

Along the same lines is this color piece by Swedish photographer and designer Jonas Elmqvist.  Running with arms outstretched, the little girl is about to bolt past the frame of the image and leave it altogether.  There’s something inherently true to the experience of childhood here.  It reminds me of a beautiful quote by Michael Whitmore from his article Finders Keepers:

Children, like legends and rare books, are often on the verge of disappearing, and it is for those who have left the kingdom of childhood—that high-walled garden whose gate has always been left swinging in the background—to wonder where they’ve gone.

This image appears here on Flickr and the artist also has an album focusing on portraiture and another on the artist’s daughters Kajsa and Maja.

Jonas Elmqvist - Summer Feeling

Jonas Elmqvist – Summer Feeling

Another image borrowed from a Russian photography site.  The thing that’s most striking about this image to me is how, though the one little girl is clearly nude, most of the other children (all of whom appear to be boys) are dressed in rather clean and modern-looking clothes.  These kids aren’t counterculture types, I think; nudity is just accepted for young kids hanging out on a raft with their grandfather.  But both the little girl and the boy sitting up front (a brother?) are also wearing crucifix necklaces.  This is Russia after all—far different standards than in the US.

This image can be found here.  The photographer specializes in weddings and special events so most images found online were commissioned by her clients.

Galina Sergeyev - Grandfather Said . . .

Galina Sergeyeva – Grandfather Said . . .

This piece is by Turkish painter Ali Özhan Güneş, who often paints scenes from nude beaches.  Again, the interesting point here is the contrast between the two boys wearing swimsuits and the naked (except for sunglasses) little girl who is watching them.  The boys seem to be completely oblivious to the naked girl beside them, but in a year or so that will likely all change.

Ali Özhan Güneş - Happy Children (2012)

Ali Özhan Güneş – Happy Children (2012)

This is a fun image.  I’m not entirely sure what the girl is wearing as the splashing water obscures most of it, but it appears to be some sort of scouting or sporting outfit.  The latter makes more sense based on the title.  Spain won the FIFA World Cup in soccer in 2010, which would indicate this image dates from the same year.  I know nothing about the photographer here.

Anna Kamińska - Congratulations Spain

Anna Kamińska – Congratulations Spain

Canadian photographer Valerie Rosen made a name for herself documenting life in the Near East, but she also works as a portrait and events photographer.  I really love the pose this little girl is in.  She looks like she’s about to tumble backwards, right onto her behind.  Joy indeed.

Valerie Rosen - Joy

Valerie Rosen – Joy

Flickr: Valerie Rosen

Tom Chambers is my favorite artist in this post.  As a photographer, he likes to create images that hover at the edge of surreality.  If you visit no other sites linked in this article, don’t miss this one.  There are plenty of little girls in his work, including a whole series from which this next image is taken.  The concept and symbolism here are compelling for reasons that are difficult to quantify, but I’ll do my best.  First there’s the contrast between the dark, massive, earthy beast and the airy, light and graceful girl who rides it, even as she mimics the sea bird flying nearby.  The bird itself hovers over the horse’s head, as if representing the true nature of the horse, who may want to fly too.  Thus we have a kind of spiritual triangle here: horse, girl and bird, all connected by the water and air around them and seeking the next level up from their usual conditions.  The horse is much lighter in the water, the girl is higher and freer on the back of the horse, and the bird is the most liberated of them all.  The horse is a Marwari, which come from India, a nation whose people are known for their spiritual connection to the elements.

Tom Chambers - Marwari Stallion #1 (2009)

Tom Chambers – Marwari Stallion #1 (2009)

Tom Chambers Photography (official site)

Carl Wilhelmson was a Swedish painter whose best work was produced during the first quarter of the 20th century.  He was a student of Carl Larsson, and his work bears much resemblance to Larsson’s, but he also studied under Bruno Liljefors, whom he might’ve inherited his love of outdoor scenes from.  He didn’t paint many nudes, but one of the few he did paint is our next image.  The girl’s pose feels slightly stiff and forced, and she is a tad too centered, but the light flooding the scene, the muted colors and the paleness of the medium itself tend to counteract any overly formal aspects of the piece.

Carl Wilhelmson - Sommar i skären (1915)

Carl Wilhelmson – Sommar i skären (1915)

Wikipedia: Carl Wilhelmson (Site is in Swedish)

Last but not least . . . two photos from Mikael Anderrson.  The close bond these children have is obvious, and I could look at dozens more photos featuring the two.  I wonder where they are now?

This artist had a huge account with NordicPhotos (over 330 pages) and these photos may have appeared there.  He has another account here and some of the images from this series were probably used to promote his book Barnmark (2011).

Mikael Andersson - A Boy and a Girl Playing in the Water

Mikael Andersson – A Boy and a Girl Playing in the Water

Mikael Andersson - A Girl and a Boy Embracing at a Lakeside

Mikael Andersson – A Girl and a Boy Embracing at a Lakeside