Fine Art Photography Daily

Dan Younger: Some Kids

Never before have so many fine art and documentary photographers turned their lenses on the world within the confines of their own front door.  Photographers who document family are participant observers–caught between the decision to participate in familial activities or capturing their loved ones with photographic interpretation, sometimes at their expense. Dan Younger has created a portfolio called “Some Kids” that are photographs of children at parties and at play. He prides himself with transforming subject matter that is mostly the province of amateurs: vacations and children. This work will be featured in “Photaumnales 2013” an international photo festival in the French town of Beauvais, this September.

Dan is a Professor of Art, founder and former chair of the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Missouri in St. Louis. He has over 200 national and international shows, and his work is in numerous public collections. Younger’s photographs have also been used in the sets of NBC’s “The Biggest Loser”, on ABC’s “Meet the Newlyweds” on Fox’s “ I Married a Stranger” and on VH1’s “Scot Baio is 45 – And Still Single”. Tony Marsh, Emmy winning director of “Newlyweds”, wrote that Younger’s photographs are “bold and evocative. They do not merely document, but beckon you to wander around in the sublime space between first impression and fond memory”.

Some Kids
As a photographer concerned with museum and gallery exhibitions, I must make my work accessible to a wide variety of possible viewers. However, when the content of the images are subjects that are standard fare for amateur photographers, this case, young children, the work must not be so personal as to be of no interest to the general public.
The majority of typical family pictures have a limited audience. They tend to be of interest only to those closest to the family, and have a limited use for a general audience. For the photographer’s family and friends, the story implied is completed by their intimate knowledge of the parent, his or her history and situation. However, to a casual and distant viewer, family photographs appear as a cliché, both trite and formulaic. But as an artist whose intent is to interest a wide set of viewers in galleries and museums, I have to expand the circle of interested viewers. 

In 1977 my daughter Mercedes was born and I was faced with a dilemma. I knew that I would be faced with expending a lot of film on images of her, interesting to her parents and grandparents, but not much use to my gallery career. After a time, I found a way to make pictures of my daughter that became more than just “family” photos. Soft, grainy and blurred (how can you keep a 1 year old still?), they became a useful portfolio. By 1979 the collection, now called “One Kid: The ‘M’ Portfolio” had been successfully exhibited at En-Jay Gallery in Boston and other national galleries. 

When I remarried several years ago, I “inherited” five grandchildren and my new family began to be included in the pictures I made. Since I am, as a professor of photography, the “camera guy”, I became the default recorder of family events. . However, I have learned a bit from the photographic portfolio of my daughter. And I began to look for those images that would speak to a larger audience, outside of our small family circle.

These new images worked better when some mystery resided in the work – when not everything was explained. By giving viewers a certain amount of freedom, and challenging them to personally narrate the picture, they can invest a bit of intellectual capital in the photograph, increasing the visual experience. Here the view also seems to isolate and focus on details instead of the entire scene. 

For example, birthday photographs feature cakes, party plates and small items that make up children’s parties, rather than the partygoers. I also continued the technique of viewing the activities from above, a much more common view of children than the face-on view that populates family albums. In this collection, children are sometimes isolated and alone — a single headstand in the grass or eating cake. 
At other times they are interacting with each other, conversations caught in mid gesture, three children pointing at a bug. Adults enter in, either confronting behavior or organizing events. 
Eventually the portfolio came to be called “Some Kids” (in reference to my older portfolio, “One Kid”). As the world we live in shrinks, we often struggle to find new ways to communicate. Art, a language dating back to caves, continues to bring people together, to help construct, inform, challenge and transform our values. Photography is the people’s art form, and therefore a universal form of communication. It is my hope that these photographs of “Some Kids” translate to everyone’s experience of all kids.

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