Maiden Voyages: October 2017

I wish to thank Pip, Arizona and Christian for keeping the home fires burning while I take a break from production.  In fact, as I mentioned last month, I am not taking a break from the site really.  I am simply educating myself and developing materials that will enhance its overall service and professionalism.  It is a sharp learning curve with a lot of trial and error and it takes time.

An Unusual Focus: I was surprised to learn that IMDb has a specialty page dealing with nudity of underage actresses.  A few of these titles are known, but many are not and Pigtails has copied the list for future research and review.  Given the controversy this may trigger, it is not known how long the list will remain on the site.  Since there are so many titles that were unknown, this would seem a bonanza for us.  However, because most of these films deal with young, post-pubescent girls, they are not covered in the scope of our site.

A Brave and Edgy Remake: In the course of investigating the career of Oona Laurence who played Tommie in the film Lamb, Pip discovered that she has been cast in a film called The Beguiled.  There is a 1971 Clint Eastwood film by that name and this is indeed a remake.  The intriguing thing about the plot is that it is about a wounded Union soldier who takes refuge in a Southern all-girls’ school during the Civil War.  The sexually-repressed girls then fight about whom he likes best.  It is interesting to note that it is directed by Sofia Coppola who seems to specialize in films about the psychology of teen girls so the drama should resonate in a believable performance.  Incidentally, Laurence also appeared in a short film after Lamb called Imaginapped.

Mistress of the Flies?  One of our readers has informed us about a film remake in production based on the novel and film Lord of the Flies.  The twist is that this time, the survivors are all girls.  This has certainly stirred things up in the media, but the directors insist they are staying true to the original intent of the novel and hope to dispel the usual stereotypes about the nature of aggression in boys versus girls.

More Desirée Drama: As mentioned in a recent ‘Maiden Voyages’, Google+ censored the image of Desirée from the series ‘American Girls’ by Ilona Szwarc.  Now Facebook has also censored it, ironically in a post denouncing the Google+ censorship.

Just Another Hoax: The graffiti artist Banksy was recently reported as captured and unmasked by police in a Palestine exhibition.  However, this story was manufactured by a hoaxer going by many aliases and publishing in the Nevada County Scooper and repeated by a number of news satire websites.

Alt-Right Unwittingly Boosts Ratings: A show called Big Mouth has been the latest target by the far right who have been boycotting and protesting the content of films produced by Netflix in the past year.  Of particular focus is a scene where a middle-school girl has a conversation with her talking, animated vagina.  Although meant to convey angst and ambivalence of a burgeoning sexuality, these critics insist it promotes pedophilia.

Girls’ Portraiture SNAFU: Fans of this website may have noticed a strange notice requesting a password for entry.  The blogger informs me that this glitch is a mundane computer problem and he does not currently have access to the site.  It is not clear if this situation is going to be remedied or if he will have to start again elsewhere.  He wanted to express his apologies to fans of the site who have not been able to reach him with their comments and questions.  I have been informed that only certain entries are password protected and one can scroll down to the other entries.  Those who have been in contact with this blogger can email him directly for the password to the protected posts.

Maiden Voyages: June 2017

After a brief time in exile, Pigtails in Paint is now operating normally with the correct domain names and backups.  Witch hunt is an apt way of describing the struggle that is taking place today, but I am particularly reminded of The Reformation.  The tenor of the angry comments about this site smacked of anti-elitism and using the arts as an excuse to do something sinister.  During The Reformation, many pundits had legitimate complaints about the corruption of the Catholic Church but, in the end, their actions and influence were used to wreak great destruction on fine religious art.  Luther and Erasmus were considered important leaders of this movement but were appalled at the wanton smashing of Madonna statues and destruction of Church property in the name of iconoclasm.  Luther even pled with local princes to put a stop to these demolition gangs but to no avail.  Although there is certainly corruption in the most powerful and established elite institutions, I feel it necessary to point out that truly talented people form natural aristocracies.  Unless they are made to have contempt for their society because of the bad treatment they suffered in their youth, they generally use their talent for the betterment of everyone.  Only those who act on their irrational fear of those with remarkable skill and knowledge tend to push society to its lowest functional state—what might reasonably be called a state of spiritual poverty.

Imitation is the Best Form of Flattery: There is a Moldovan photographer Vladimir Timofeev who did a photo shoot imitating Hajime Sawatari’s Alice.  The simulation is remarkable even down to the expression on the girl’s face.  The blogger at Girls’ Portraiture recently featured this artist and included a number of other images from this series.

Walking a Fine Line: Christian has informed me that there is a censorship issue with Google+.  He tried to share Ilona Szwarc’s photograph Desiree, Brooklyn, NY  and it was immediately flagged as inappropriate followed by a message stating that it “may be in violation of our User Content and Conduct Policy”.  They added that “Content that depicts the exploitation or abuse of children, presents children in a sexual manner, or facilitates inappropriate contact with children is not permitted.”  After appealing the decision, a reviewer upheld the decision.  Therefore, Google+ believes that a photograph of a girl in a two-piece swimsuit and holding a doll is considered “child abuse”.  The irony is—and I have heard this complaint many times—there are many “hate” sites and profiles glorifying Nazism or promoting anti-Semitism that have not been removed, despite being reported. Christian adds that Facebook censored the Lehnert & Landrock photograph from Pip’s recent post ‘A Girl and Her Vessel’.

Interestingly, our service provider just did some research, asking a U.K. watchdog group to examine our site for any possible cases of abuse.  We got a clean bill of health on that point but were informed that they have no influence over what individual companies and organizations can censor.  These developments highlight the need for a knowledgeable organization that can make more clear and reasonable definitions that are legally-binding for law enforcement agencies and media service companies.

Little Belly Dancers: I have been informed that in The Ukraine, there are annual festivals where little girls perform this art.  Here are three fine examples on YouTube from the past few events: Anastasia Olkova (2014), Aleksandra Kutsyuk (2016) and Sofia Yavtushenko (2013).

Who’s Number One?  I recently watched Michael Moore’s film Where to Invade Next (2015).  The title is confusing at first until you understand the premise that Moore is traveling to other countries to steal their best ideas for use in the U.S.  Worth noting is his visit to a rural primary school in France.  The children are served what Americans would call gourmet food, served by chefs (no cafeteria lines), and they receive lessons on food etiquette during that time.  They were quite disgusted when Moore showed them pictures of school cafeteria food in the U.S.  Also, sex education is quite frank and without the kind scare tactics that are regular fare in the U.S.  The instructors there found it quite laughable when Moore suggested they should emphasize abstinence.

Crime Dramas: When I was little, I remember watching old television shows with my grandmother.  One show she loved was Quincy, M.E. starring Jack Klugman.  There was an episode that dealt with the topic of child prostitution.  It was interesting to see how the subject was handled in that show versus an episode of the more recent Numb3rs.  It got me to thinking that any long-running crime drama would deal with the subject sooner or later and it would be interesting to analyze changing perceptions over time and in different countries.  I am therefore requesting that any readers familiar with specific episodes that deal with this subject in a television series, please let me know.  The results of my research will be made into a future post.  Simply use the contact form to send me any leads.  -Ron

American Dolls: Ilona Szwarc

As Pigtails’ purpose is to cover the portrayal of little girls, I figured the whole phenomenon of the “American Girl” would get covered at some point. Fortunately, an artist friend of mine brought my attention to an artist who did an entire series with girls who own these dolls, and her stunning photography gives greater depth and complexity to the issue than I could have offered otherwise.

Ilona Szwarc was born in Warsaw, Poland in 1984 and took an early interest in film and photography. The first camera she ever played with was a family-owned Russian model, and when traveling to America as a child, she got a Polaroid and began taking pictures of everything, especially her brothers, documenting their play together. Her first real camera came from one of her brothers when she was 14. By that time this was already a serious pursuit.  She constantly taking pictures and going to photography workshops and classes; she even had darkroom at her house. Among her inspirations are the films of Krzysztof Kieslowski, Michelangelo Antonioni, John Cassavetes, Ingmar Bergman and the photography of Walker Evans, Diane Arbus, William Eggleston, and especially Joel Meyerowitz, with whom she works and who mentors the progress of her latest efforts.

In 2008 she moved permanently to New York City. Although she was familiar with life in America, having traveled to New York and the United States many times as a child—even living in Texas for one year—actually making the move and setting up shop there was inspirational. Prior to attending the School of Visual Arts in New York, she worked in the film industry; she worked with such directors as Jonathan Glazer, Roman Polanski and Andrzej Wajda. Regardless of the type of work she does, she tries to bring out how women in different cultures cope with gender roles.

While honing her skills as an assistant to Mary Ellen Mark, she embarked on her first project in the summer of 2010 called “Anna” about her mother-in-law who lives in Queens, NY. Also coming from Poland, Szwarc became fascinated by her experience of America, and the interaction offered her an opportunity to establish a personal bond.

When she first came to New York City she wanted to become a street photographer, so she began going out every day and photographing on the streets, following in the footsteps of masters like Meyerowitz and Garry Winogrand, While taking pictures on 5th Avenue, Szwarc started noticing girls carrying dolls that looked like them and wore matching outfits. She had never seen anything like that and became curious about this cultural phenomenon. She quickly realized that those dolls are very different from Barbies but, like them, had a whole culture built up around them.

Ilona Szwarc - Tiffani-Amber, Kylee, Sophia, Elizabeth, Angelica, LongBeach, NY (2012)

Ilona Szwarc – Tiffani-Amber, Kylee, Sophia, Elizabeth, Angelica, LongBeach, NY (2012)

Inspired in part by photographers who incorporated dolls in their work—like Laurie Simmons and Hans Bellmer—Szwarc traveled across the United States for two years to capture young girls and their American Girl dolls. While this brand includes a line based on historical characters, she was more interested in the look-alike aspect of these dolls. In her series entitled “American Girls”, she explores gender and beauty in America by having girls pose in intimate photos with their personal avatars.

Ilona Szwarc - (Title Unknown) (2012)

Ilona Szwarc – (Title Unknown) (2012)

Her subjects were girls that were passionate about their dolls and wanted to be photographed for her project. She knew she’d need to find patient subjects, so she sought out aspiring models and actresses, or at least girls whose parents saw them that way. She let them choose the outfits—for themselves and for their doll(s)—and Szwarc wanted to create meaningful portraits of the girls, so she chose to portray them without the typical smile. She believes it makes them more natural and serious, which changes the dynamic: “I think they reveal more when they are not smiling. My intention was to create works of art, and not family snapshots of girls with their dolls.”

Szwarc was initially struck by the name of the product itself, feeling that it was very exclusive, with the company imposing its stereotypes about what a contemporary American girl is. The dolls were originally conceived of as anti-Barbie toys—modeled on the body of a nine-year-old—and although the basic premise is that the girls can create a “mini-me” version of themselves, they are in fact offered limited choices. Apart from the clothes and accessories, the only options are: different skin colors (light, medium and dark), different eye colors (about forty) and many hairstyles (more than eighty). Yet the basic face mold and figure of all dolls are the same—a slim, petite and androgynous shape.

This girl incorporated her alter ego as part of her Halloween costume:

Ilona Szwarc - Lexi, Lindenhurst, NY (2012)

Ilona Szwarc – Lexi, Lindenhurst, NY (2012)

So Szwarc began to contemplate how individuality is manifested in this world and how it is communicated to children. As all the dolls essentially look the same, the only expressions of individuality rely on the hair style and fashionable clothing and accessories. With a wide variety of miniature accessories–a doll hospital, and a doll hair salon with personal stylists–they are perhaps the most luxurious toys ever invented. Each costing around $100, the toys are a designer product targeting the tween set, and Szwarc believes the girls connect the dolls to social status. “They are meant to carry a message of empowerment to girls, however, what I have noticed is that actually they only perpetuate traditional gender roles and keep the focus of girls on body grooming and dressing up as a way of identity maintenance.” The branding behind the doll perpetuates domestic associations, and Szwarc is interested in how culture and society condition gender identity and how it invents childhood. One of her subjects had 24 dolls—all gifts from her grandmother.

Ilona Szwarc - Amanda (2012)

Ilona Szwarc – Amanda (2012)

I find this image interesting, as many people still falsely attribute class with race.

Ilona Szwarc - Molleen, Brooklyn, NY (2012)

Ilona Szwarc – Molleen, Brooklyn, NY (2012)

With a plethora of accessories, at least the company can create the appearance of being politically correct.

Ilona Szwarc - Chloe (2012)

Ilona Szwarc – Chloe (2012)

One of Szwarc’s subjects had a brother who was dismayed to find that they did not have a doll for him—a boy—and another was upset that she couldn’t buy the kind of clothes she wanted at American Girl Place. She explained that she doesn’t really like dresses and regards herself as a tomboy. Nothing there seemed to reflect her own style and personality, and in order to get matching clothes for her dolls, she had to go to different toy stores—like Build-a-Bear Workshop—where the outfits were more gender-neutral. Even before learning this interesting back story, I felt this image had a more artful quality than most.

Ilona Szwarc - Jade, Framingville, NY (2012)

Ilona Szwarc – Jade, Framingville, NY (2012)

Despite Szwarc’s misgivings, the philosophy behind these dolls does represent a cultural shift away from toys that consistently focus on body image. These dolls do look like children, with a slightly fuller body type, and are fully clothed. It should be understood, however, that concern over body image is not entirely cultural and some girls—especially those considering modeling or acting—will find ways to display themselves to best effect, as demonstrated by a number of Szwarc’s subjects who chose bathing suits.

Ilona Szwarc - Desiree, Brooklyn, NY (2012)

Ilona Szwarc – Desiree, Brooklyn, NY (2012)

The American Girl phenomenon must seem peculiar to Szwarc and probably most Europeans, as Americans manage to have an extended attachment to their dolls, even into their teens. Neither these nor Barbies are really dolls in the traditional sense; the idea must have been for the youngest girl in a household to have a doll as a surrogate for exercising nurturance, and perhaps some companionship, until she was old enough to take on greater responsibilities in the home. They were never meant to serve as a sop for a girl’s self-image as American dolls have become, and they may demonstrate a subconscious desire by both parents and children in the U.S. to extend a privileged and innocent childhood.

Ilona Szwarc - Jenna, Groveland, MA (2011)

Ilona Szwarc – Jenna, Groveland, MA (2011)

These pictures are presented unaltered from the world we live in, yet they confront the viewer with the sometimes hyperrealistic quality of American existence that could only be realized by an artist with an outside perspective. In 2012, Szwarc returned to visit her old home town of Canadian in the Texas panhandle. She noticed something new about the rodeo culture she remembered from high school: “I knew about the rodeo culture from back when I lived there, but I wasn’t aware that young girls were doing it.” After getting to know so many girls while working on American Girls, it was fascinating for Szwarc to discover a group of girls in the same age range who had a totally different idea about their femininity and gender roles. They work hard and are physically strong and dominant, and this encounter has become the inspiration for her latest series Rodeo Girls.

Ilona Szwarc - Taylyn, Seven, and Her Pony (2013)

Ilona Szwarc – Taylyn, Seven, and Her Pony (2013)

Szwarc is interested in photographing girls because she sees herself in them: “As a woman of course I relate to other women. Through photographing them I isolate and explore different aspects of my experience of being a woman. It is a way of self-portraiture, but enriched by the experience of others.” Although it was the girls who drew her into this new milieu, the new work includes depictions of both men and women.

Ilona Szwarc (official site)

“American Girls” galleries here and here

American Girl (official site)

“Rodeo Girls” gallery here