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Who Am I? What Am I? Where Am I? is a collection of photographs by Aura Rosenberg and other fine art photographers of children in face paint or dressed up in some other way. There are over 80 artists in the book so there's no stylistic unity. It is a fun book to browse through; most of the images are playful and of course the children are beautiful. A few, including the photograph used on the cover, are odd or disturbing. As a whole, the collection is hard to know what to make of. There's an essay at the end of the book by Nikolas Guagnini that aims to shed some light on the topic, but it does not help much. More useful is a final section that has a paragraph or two, or in a few cases longer descriptions of each artist. It's tricky to coordinate between the photographs and the descriptions at the end, but it is worth doing.
Some of the images are sweet or even cute, and they run the risk of relying too much on the adorability of the children. Other artists react against this risk by making the children look macabre. Harmony Korine has video stills of a young girl, (Rosenber's daugher Carmen) painted in blackface, looking like a miserable demon, although Korine says he wanted her to look like a sad minstrel. Iris Rose paints a boy with one side of his facenormal and the other half disfigured. This turns out to be her son made up as the Batman comic character Two-Face, and we could see it as a representation of the variability in moods of children. Jim Shaw has a boy grimacing with what look likes sharks teeth drawn around his face, and he says he wants to represent children's anger.
The most successful pictures are more subtle. Maria Eichhorn's picture of Carmen with a small white mark on her cheek. It turns out that it is a medical cream to treat an insect bite. What makes the picture stand out is that it is strong portrait, with Carmen looking straight at the camera, her hair slightly disheveled. Matt Mullican contributes three images of his twins Lucy and Cosmo at different ages. One is when they were five years old, and they kiss each other. The other two are from when the twins are twelve, and they rub their faces together, smearing the facepaint onto each other. Michael Smith gives two photographs that are among the most interesting of the book, with two boys with writing on their faces describing them. Bogyi has "Ht: 4'11" Wt: 80lb Hr: Bld Eye: hzl Age: 9 Shoe: 4m Shirt: L Pant: L Skills: Piano Chess; Driving climbing swimming Lang: Hungarian English" written on his face. It's a striking image of identity.
So this is an interesting project with variable results. It's bound to have some images to please any viewer, but it would have benefitted from more editing.
Link: Aura Rosenberg website
© 2009 Christian Perring
Christian Perring, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York.
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