Calm down. Those aren’t real cigarrettes. Photographer Frieke Janssens used chalk, cheese sticks, candles and incense to stage these fictional and yet, gracefully unnerving portraits of smoking children.
She says she was prompted by the viral speared of videos of East-Asian toddler smokers on the internet, as well as complaints that the Belgium-based photographer heard from adults that they were being treated like children in the wake of indoor smoking ban legislations spreading across the Western world.
The round photographs have a very vintage aesthetic and prop styling, with hues reminiscent of classic manually-colorized black-and-white prints.
The images highlight the normalization of cigarette smoking and its glorification as a hallmark of the retro aesthetic. Combining child models and vintage imagery, the show prompts audiences to consider what smoking has meant in the past and what it will become in the future.
The exhibition run at VII Gallery, which normally specializes in conflict photojournalism, was recently extended. It also features a preview of the photographer’s work in progress, “Your Last Shot,” a portrait series on the topic of remembrance and death — which, pretty relevant, no?
Here’s some behind-the-scenes video of the shoot:
“Smoking Kids,” Frieke Janssens, Jan 11 – Feb 15, VII Gallery, Brooklyn