The kids aren’t all right

By GREG COOK  |  November 13, 2007
Blackmon-HighChairIONSIDE
HUMOROUS AND OMINOUS: Blackmon’s “High Chair.”

Van Empel’s scenes are filled with ravishingly vivid colors, and dreamlike shifts of scale and space. Kids appear in their Sunday best or stripped down to shorts. He often photographs their heads, arms, legs, and outfits separately, giving many of them a doll-like appearance. He has a terrific eye for details that make the scenes pop, like a violet flower in a tangle of green foliage. Then Van Empel, a white Dutch guy, lightens or darkens skin tones to emphasize the kids’ race. He pictures white kids in deciduous forests and black kids in jungles. On the one hand, the scenes are like mini-Edens, pure and holy’ on the other, they call forth stereotypes of Aryan princesses and primitive jungle tribes. It’s dangerous, electric territory.
 
Blackmon stages and digitally stitches together scenes, by turns humorous and ominous, of white kids doing the darnedest things in a neat middle-class world. These photos from 2005 to ’07 feel like Gregory Crewdson images starring the preschool set. A girl in a white dress hides behind a gold curtain in what appears to be her bedroom. Her ruby red slippers lay on the floor before her, pink gum stretching from the sole of one to the floorboards. In “High Chair,” a diapered kid stands up precariously in a high chair while no one seems to be watching. In the next room, we glimpse the broom of someone sweeping. In “Cupcake,” a boy with blue frosting all over his lips and a cupcake in his hands gives a possessive stare. A baby crawls away. A woman sits with her feet up, waiting for her toenails to dry, watching TV. A boy climbs a column. Who knows what could happen?
 
Greenberg, a commercial photographer, began her 2005 series of photos of weeping children when a boy model began crying during a studio shoot. She kept photographing. They all have a similar format: little topless kids from the navel or shoulders up posed before blue-gray backdrops under bright studio lights. The kids tear up, gasp, drool, howl from wide-open mouths. She digitally alters the photos to emphasize tears and grimace lines. Greenberg gives them titles such as “Four More Years,” “Shock,” “Faith?,” and “Apocalypse Now” that reflect her anger and despair about life during the Bush Administration and the evangelical
right. It’s hard to resist the heartbreaking pull of these crying children. Conklin reports their outbursts were sparked by “the Hollywood trick of taking candy away from a baby.” You want to comfort them — even if you know that kids naturally cry for all sorts of reasons, many small, and now and again for no reason at all. But after a couple of these pictures you get the point, and the emotional jolt wears off.

“KIDS” | The David Winton Bell Gallery, 64 College St, Providence | Through December 21

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  Topics: Museum And Gallery , Photography, Brown University, Gregory Crewdson,  More more >
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