controversial photographer visits student center
Deck In one picture, a little boy rides a tricycle, pulling a stuffed monkey behind him. In another, a rosy-cheeked young girl wanders the city streets alone at night clutching a camera. In both pictures, the children seem trapped within a harsh adult world, yet their childlike features reflect their true innocence.
Such is the work of Simen Johan, a 31-year-old Norwegian photographer famous for his images of children that combine both youthful fantasies and nightmarish adult realities. Johan, who visited the Student Center Wednesday night, was the first guest speaker sponsored by the Department of Cinema and Photography this year.
According to R. William Rowley, associate professor and chair of the department
of Cinema and Photography, Johan’s visit was meaningful in today’s new age of digital photography. Johan creates collages from different parts of multiple digital images, while still retaining the rich texture of film photography.
“He’s manipulated the image,” Rowley said. “He’s changed them. There’s something about that tells us that they’ve been put together, which causes us to think about them in a different way.”
Johan echoed Rowley’s sentiment during his presentation Wednesday night.
“I don’t think you can trust any image these days,” Johan said. “In a way, I want to protest censorship.”
Before winning the New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in 2001, Johan created controversy as a photography student at the School of Visual Arts in New York City with a series of black and white images depicting young children with adult body parts. Johan was criticized for his use of naked images of children, despite the fact that the images were digitized and the children hadn’t been harmed in the process.
“The part about children and nudity is something that gets more improper and negative the older you get,” Johan said. “When I took those pictures, I was thinking about (child pornography) in a very humorous way. I was 19.”
Rowley notices a special quality to Johan’s pictures.
“There’s something that makes the images dreamlike,” Rowley said. “He’s working with the emotional impact of these images. His work is also going to raise some questions.”
While he insists his pictures aren’t political, Johan also realizes the images he produces prompt serious thought about today’s society.
“I’m inspired by my daily life and what I see in the media,” he said. “I want to evoke interpretation and make people think.
“It’s important for people to think.”