Sometimes art is made to be beautiful. Sometimes it's made to disturb. Belgian photographer Frieke Janssens' images of (brace yourself) smoking children are made to do both. They totally succeed.
Even the artiest parents are bound to find Janssens' highly stylized, intensely provocative images a little hard to take. In them, we see children ages 4 through 9, styled to look like old-fashioned glam Hollywood stars, holding cigarettes, cigars, and cigarillos. The children suck in, breathe out, blow smoke rings, and stand with dreamy, faraway looks on their faces as smoke curls around their heads and makes patterns in the light.
According to reports, the cigarettes are made from cheese, but in both the photos and a moody, making-of video, those cancer sticks look pretty darn real to me: I, personally, have never seen cheese produce smoke like that.
So what was Janssens' point? Apparently, the artist was inspired by the public-area smoking bans that have been enacted in many U.S. cities and in her native Belgium. She (at least I'm pretty sure Janssens is a she) was also moved to create them after watching that awful video of a chain-smoking Indonesian toddler that went viral some months back. (Remember that charming artifact?)
"These portraits evoke question such as: is the smoking ban the right way to get rid of an absurd addiction and are smokers treated like little kids who can't make the difference between good and bad?" writes Tom Tack on the blog I Love Belgium.
Well, that's an interesting question to ask, I suppose, but I honestly think it gets a bit lost here. It's hard to see past the haze of horror -- Smoking kids. Smoking kids? Smoking kids! -- and to contemplate the issue in a nuanced way. On the other hand, I'm all for art that raises issues and sparks debate. And I suppose, if these children aren't really smoking cigarettes (but rather ... cheese), it's not like they were harmed in the making of this, right?
Ultimately, the viewers' disgust with these images could prove beneficial. If grownups are so grossed out by seeing kids smoking, why would we want to do it ourselves?
What do you think of Janssens' photos of kids smoking?
Image and video via YouTube