A Selection of Photographs from 1995 to 1997
June 15th - July 28th 2018
Cindie Cheung (b.1984) took the portraits of her childhood female friends exhibited in A Selection of Photographs from 1995 to 1997 while she was growing up in a suburb of Aarhus, a city in Denmark. She returned to the original negatives in adulthood and hand-printed them in a colour and a black and white darkroom, treating them as found objects.
By distancing herself from the original production of the photographs and choosing to re-present them, Cheung raises questions about the autonomy and veracity of the image of girlhood, and the role that widespread cultural fictions play in determining our private biographies. Who, or what, can be said to have made these photographs, and what power structures do they wittingly or unwittingly reproduce? And who does the image of girlhood belong to, anyway?
Cheung’s soft-focus, sun-kissed scenes of young girls – taken at sleepovers and on holidays – are the work of a child documenting her social life. Viewed in the present moment and under the scrutiny of an exhibition, we may also find that they replicate the pop-cultural fantasy of nubile, vulnerable, coming-of-age, white-girl cool – a sophisticated and problematic aesthetic far from the innocence associated with immaturity.
A girl’s childhood is always mediated by the cultural construct of girlhood projected onto the bodies of children and presented to adult women as an unachievable goal. From Vladimir Nabokov’s 1953 novel Lolita, the French collective Tiqqun’s 1999 book Preliminary Materials for a Theory of the Young-Girl, to the pages of practically every fashion magazine, the figure of the young girl has been lusted after, idealised, and derided. But whether critiquing her or fetishising her, she – whoever ‘she’ may be – is rarely invited to speak for herself or considered capable of doing so. When she does, what she produces is often written off as inauthentic or narcissistic, or dumped in the dustbin of ‘the confessional’.
The photographs in this exhibition complicate this field. To recognise the manner in which we participate in editing our own experiences of childhood – in youth and in adulthood – is a step towards acknowledging the peculiar, semi-fictional reality faced by young women. Perhaps it is possible to view these photographs, and with them girlhood itself, as co-authored: at once the work of the individual, and of a culture that fetishises female youth.
– Rosanna Mclaughlin
Frieze review by Amy Sherlock.