Seven Subjects You Shouldn’t Photograph
(Or Should You?)
by Christy Lange
O Zhang, Daddy & I No. 16, 2005, photographic print, 1 × 1 m. Courtesy: the artist
3 Don’t photograph children, babies
This rule was meant to keep us from taking the easy way out of portraiture by photographing subjects who couldn’t say no. But getting up close to photograph a child is harder than it seems. When they are directly related to the photographer, or even when they aren’t, their uncannily adult gestures or the raw awkwardness of adolescence are affecting.
O Zhang’s series of Western men embracing or holding hands with young Chinese girls (‘Daddy & I’, 2005–06) touches a similarly uncomfortable nerve to Rineke Dijkstra’s iconic ‘Beach Portraits’ (1992) and ‘Park Portraits’ (2005–06). These men are, in fact, the girls’ adoptive fathers. My unease at viewing these family portraits increases when I realize my discomfort stems largely from my own prejudices of what a ‘family’ should look like. O, who briefly lived with an adoptive family when she was a child, defines that fine line between taking a photograph of a ‘victim’ of circumstances – or the photographer’s gaze – and a picture of a young girl and her dad.
See also: Roni Horn’s series with her niece ‘This is Me, This is You’ (1998–2000) and Josephine Pryde’s ‘Adoption’ (2009)