Thursday, April 3, 2008

Worth Crying Over?

I have struggled over what to say about these photoshoped photographs by Jill Greenburg, aka the Manipulator. A student of mine suffering the loss of a loved one by their own hand showed me these images as a potential influence on her painting. They are deeply affecting- at least for this old sap of a father. I cannot view them without hearing my own children wailing over some insult or injury to their small selves.

The question I struggled with was over their value. Beyond a striking image, how do these pictures "make the world a better place"? When in doubt, I usually do some research and often find some background information that helps. In this case it did not help. (Jill's political based reason for making them seem trivial in comparison to the overarchingly universal, timeless quality of these images- as does the process she underwent to make them, however conceptually uncomfortable.) My answer came rather from a colleague of mine who teaches psychology. When he saw these photos for the first time he commented that these were children in need of adults to protect them. He then shared a figure on the number of children that die at the hands of parents every year in the US.

Want to guess the number?

It is 1,000/year. (On tonight's news the CDC reports that over 905,000 infants are victums of neglect. That's 1 in 50 infants. )

At that point I saw the value of Jill's series. It is not for their beauty, but for the content they deliver at a gut punching level- that children feel deeply and profoundly, and suffer in our midst. The feelings in their faces are also our own, unfiltered. How can these pictures help? By reminding us that many, many children suffer at the hands of adults. What child is born ready for prison? They are molded into such -by adults. A friend of my son's said once "There would be no racism if all the old folks were all dead." True-but considering that I am an old folk in his eyes I prefer work like this that remind us of the suffering that should, that must, be addressed. It's a situation worth crying over -then fixing.

(Go to Jill Greenburg's website and select the "End Times" series to view more from this series.)

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