It’s a given: babies and small children are cute. If ever there was a photographic image that possessed universal appeal, it is that of the child. Too young to have developed any sense of self-consciousness, they seem assured and wholly natural before the camera lens. That being said, there is no greater threat to the credibility of a fine art photographer than the use of the child as a subject. Photographs of cherubic babes are acceptable on your home mantle, but are they serious enough fodder for the lofty halls of the gallery or museum?
The meteoric rise and critical acclaim of photo-artist Loretta Lux answers my rhetorical question with a resounding “yes.” The German-born Lux combines painting with photography to create her quirky, signature portraits of children. She employs a subtle form of digital manipulation that seamlessly fuses her painted backdrops with the photographic foreground, resulting in images that appear just slightly “off” from straightforward portraiture. Her soft, diffuse light and muted colour palette give her children an otherworldly appearance, as if they were ghosts haunting long-abandoned houses. The nostalgic costumes in which her subjects are clothed serve to heighten this uncanny, ghost-like quality.
It is this tension between the beauty of the child and the strangeness of their environments that elevate Lux’s portraits above the Walmart-variety kitsch of, say, an Anne Geddes eggplant-baby, and offer up a compelling and unsentimental view of children and childhood.