Childhood is that stage of life in which we endure life without major use of reason, and when we reach maturity we look back on it nostalgically. Defining the boundaries that mark the end of childhood is a task for every culture, and it is a rather complicated task. The Greeks thought childhood was finished at the age of seven; today we can find cultures where the term extends until the child is sixteen years of age.
Many cultures have a specific age denoting the end of this phase of life and have certain traditions to celebrate the transition between childhood and adulthood. Other cultures simply empower the biology of the human body, especially when it begins to transform, and think this is when childhood begins to fade into “adolescence,” or a pre-adult stage. There are also necessities – such as a need for “independence” and sexual desire – that mark the beginning of this new stage in the life of every human being.
Today, childhood has changed considerably. Children nowadays impersonate adults in a seamless way thanks to parents who impose a style or appearance on these beings who can do little to refute these impositions.
The look on the children's eyes may be intriguing because of their innocence, or perturbing due to their insolence and at oods with their fragile bodies, still in development. Childhood has been a recurring subject in photography, and many photographers have devoted their careers to capturing this stage of human existence like no other.
Lewis Carroll is best known for being the author of “Alice's Adventures in Wonderland”, “Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There”, and many other books. What is less known about Carroll is his involvement with other disciplines such as mathematics and photography. Carroll is considered to be one of the most influential Victorian photographers. His images of children, especially the ones of Alice Liddell and Alexandra Kitchin, captured their innocence in a unique way.
Here you can see some photographs of Alice, and here some of Alexandra.
The industrial decay of his home city, Kharkiv, has had a deep influence on his work. He uses people to portray contemporary Russian society, and his portraits are often feature prostitutes, workers, soldiers, and of course, children. His representations of life after the collapse of the USSR expose certain popular ideological cliches of communism and the new capitalist wave of the East.
You can see more of his deep and compelling work focused on kids here.
I've been a huge fan of Sally Mann's work for a long time, and this is a perfect opportunity to speak of her work (again). Her most popular work revolves around the development of childhood and the next stages of human growth. Mann’s “Immediate Family”, completed during the ’80s and ‘90s has defined much of her career, and has also been controversial for including nudity and eerie feelings of violence.
You can see more of her amazing work here.
Julia Margaret Cameron (1815 – 1879)
Cameron received an enlightening gift, a camera, at the age of 48. Her work started as a hobby, and quickly evolved into a craft. Her portraits weren't a normal thing at the time; she wasn't interested in perfection, like straight photography was. She sought something more, pursued emotions, and achieved it well. Just like Carroll, she is considered one of the most influential and important Victorian photographers in history.
You can see some of her work on children here.
The work of Chelbin has centered on people from Ukraine, Eastern Europe, Israel and England. His portraits have a very ambiguous and intriguing quality. His most-notable work is “Strangely Familiar”, which you can see an excerpt of here. These portraits are strangely familiar indeed, because they are somehow vernacular and eerie, but they ultimately seem result familiar to almost any viewer.
A personal favorite of mine.
He was a former graphic design student, which obviously had a great positive impact on the aesthetic of his work. He then earned a Master’s degree in photography. Just like Sally Mann, his intimate work gave him recognition in the Fine Art world and also put him on critics’ radar.
This is one of the most famous images by Emmet Gowin, and a favorite of mine as well. You can see more of his work here and here.
His intense portraits reveal transformation and emotional turmoil beneath the social surface. Ingar Krauss is interested in documenting his still-young and premature biographies, and tries to make evident the universality of being a person. His subjects tend to look always serious, proud, almost unapproachable. The photographer finds his models at home and on his travels to typical childhood institutions of former Eastern Bloc countries: summer camps, Socialist clubhouses for Young Pioneers, and orphanages.
You can see more of his compelling work here.
Working with such a complex theme as childhood has caused problems for many of these photographers (such as Lewis Carroll and Sally Mann). If you’re interested in seeing other work about childhood that takes a very realistic approach (and if you have three hours of your time), watch this movie by Richard Linklater.