Minou Drouet: A Forgotten Child Poet

Roger Hauert – Minou Drouet (1956) (1)

In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, the media and public opinion in France, and to some extent in Europe, were impassioned about a little girl who wrote very imaginative poems and letters, sang on stage with famous artists, starred in a film and was even involved in children’s fashion: Minou Drouet. When she grew up, she stopped writing poetry, and soon fell into oblivion, so that now only old people barely remember who she is. As writes Robert Gottlieb in his essay “A Lost Child” (November 2006):

In fact, you can’t find a book by Minou Drouet in any bookstore in Paris, not even her phenomenally successful Arbre, Mon Ami, which was published just over fifty years ago—early in 1956—by the aggressive René Julliard, who a year earlier had scored an international triumph with Francoise Sagan’s Bonjour Tristesse. But Sagan had been eighteen; Minou was eight.

Minou Drouet was born on July 24 or 27, 1947. Her birth certificate did not indicate a father, and her mother relinquished her parental rights, so the baby was put up for adoption. On June 17, 1949, she was officially adopted by Claude Drouet, an unmarried woman who worked as a private teacher. The girl was christened Marie-Noëlle, with the diminutive Minou. As writes Robert Gottlieb:

Minou Drouet’s existence was turbulent well before she became a cause célèbre—in fact, from the very beginning. When she was a year and a half old, she was adopted by Claude Drouet, an educated woman who earned her living by coaching children at home. The story was that Minou’s parents had drowned in a fishing-boat accident, but actually she was illegitimate, and her birth mother had signed away all rights to her.

Indeed, when Ms. Drouet adopted her, she had heard about a child whose parents had both drowned, and she sometimes told that story in order to preserve the reputation of Minou, so she would not be called a “bastard,” since at that time single mothers were considered shameful.

Roger Hauert – Minou Drouet (1956) (2)

The baby was almost blind and affected with a strong strabismus; she also suffered from poor health and it seems that she had difficulties closing her mouth on food. Ms. Drouet herself had a very poor eyesight and had been completely blind during seven years of her childhood, then in her youth she had written a short tale about the marvellous world that a blind little girl creates inside herself as a shelter from the torments of the world. So her choice was deliberate: to raise a child who had suffered in the same way as her. She was also inclined to the occult, and she read the lines in the baby’s hands. Says Gottlieb:

Minou was almost blind at birth, and for three years or so lived in a semi-autistic state, unable to speak and cut off from communicating with people other than her mother and her beloved grandmother. Years later, she wrote, “Locked inside myself, I led the life of some kind of vegetable. … The doctors warned Mama, ‘The condition of this child is desperate. We can’t imagine her being cured.'” Other children were unkind to her, and her emotions were directed almost entirely to nature: to animals, birds, and especially the big tree in the garden—“Arbre, mon ami.”

It took on the part of Claude Drouet a long and patient work of love to change this sickly and closed off baby into a healthy, happy and creative little girl. Music was the means by which she could awaken to the world. There are several versions of how it started (her age at that time, the music composer and the medium through which she heard the music vary in each); here is the one of Gottlieb:

Then, when she was three, Minou heard Bach organ music on the radio, and it awakened her to the world. Music became her link to humanity, and in those early years it was music rather than writing that obsessed her. Her passion led to piano lessons from a local teacher, and her abilities led her eventually to Mme. Descaves, in Paris; if the child wasn’t a miniature Mozart (any more than she was a miniature Rimbaud), she was clearly gifted.

Roger Hauert – Minou Drouet (1956) (3)

A more extravagant version of Minou’s early childhood is given by Charles Templeton in An Anecdotal Memoir:

Minou Drouet’s mother was a prostitute and her father a field hand. As an infant she was taken into the home of a middle-aged woman, whose ambition to write well exceeded her talent. She adopted the child and raised her with love, surrounding her with music in a home dedicated to literature. It appeared that Minou was retarded. At six she hadn’t spoken a word. The judgment of four doctors was that she would never be normal.

One day, her mother played a recording of a Brahms symphony for her. Minou swooned. When she was revived, she spoke perfect French in complex sentences. Shortly thereafter she began to write poetry.

Similarly, Carol Mavor writes in “Tragic Candy, Time” (an article leaning towards post-modern speculations and titillation):

Her father was a very poor field hand. Many said that her mother was a prostitute.

By age six, little Minou still had not spoken a word. She was tight-lipped and silent.

In fact, Minou’s childhood has been surrounded by mystery, and fantastic tales have been told about her. Ms. Drouet herself seemed to be involved in fortune telling through cards or reading lines in hands. According to a French online article, Ms. Drouet told the author that Minou possessed a gift of clairvoyance; she could foretell exactly a visit or a death. When the controversy erupted about the authorship of her published poems, some critics hypothesized that her mother had hypnotized her or transmitted her poems by telepathy. The writer Louis Pauwels even hinted at “possession” and labeled her “not a case of a child prodigy,” but “a case of sorcery.”

Roger Hauert – Minou Drouet with Lucette Descaves (1956)

In 1954, Minou started piano lessons first with a tutor, Ninette Ellia. The latter put her in contact with famous pianists: Alfred Cortot, Yves Nat, and foremost Lucette Descaves, professor at the Conservatoire de Paris, who took Minou as pupil on July 29, 1954. Minou, an affectionate child, developed strong feelings for her teacher and sent her letters full of love, together with poems. Ms. Descaves showed them to professor Pasteur Vallery-Radot of the French Academy, who became immediately fascinated, and remained afterwards a staunch supporter of Minou’s exceptional talents. He told about her to the publisher René Julliard. Ms. Descaves entrusted Julliard with a batch of Minou’s writings, and Julliard met Minou on May 6, 1955.

Then things started to move fast. Professor Paufique, an ophthalmologist in Lyon, operated successfully on her eyes. In September, Julliard made a private edition of a booklet with a selection of poems and letters by Minou. A controversy immediately erupted, involving the major French media. Some disagreements concerned the quality of her poems, but mainly it dealt with her authorship, many stating that it was an imposture, that her adoptive mother had written the poems and letters herself. Templeton writes (getting wrong with Minou’s age, she was then aged 8, not 6):

Some of the poems were published and immediately provoked debate. It was said that no child of six could possibly have such thoughts, much less express them so profoundly. It was argued that, unlike music, poetry demands an experience of life, experience that no child so young could have had. It was charged that her adoptive mother — a poet herself who aspired to recognition but had been judged second-rate — was the author of the verses.

Several journals sent reporters to interview the Drouet family. In particular the magazine Elle sent a journalist and a photographer for an “investigation,” then published their report, claiming to give a “proof” of forgery. This article was shown to Minou. Also journalists revealed her adopted child status, something that Claude Drouet had hidden her in order to protect her. Many letters of Minou published later show the deep hurt felt by that sensitive girl, resenting the cruelty and wickedness of people; in a very sad one of them, addressed to her mother, she compares herself to a frightening cat whose whiskers have been cut out, or to an old castle surrounded by moat.

Graphologists and writing experts were called in by both sides, with conflicting opinions. At the end of November 1955, Julliard took Minou without her mother at his home for a few days, so he could witness himself how Minou composed her poems (and it is during that stay that she wrote that letter to her mother mentioned above).

Roger Hauert – Minou Drouet (1956) (4)

The surrealist leader André Breton published in Paris-Presse, December 20, a short article where he stated firmly that he did not have to investigate the facts, simply by examining the texts he could deduce that no child aged 8 and even beyond could write such texts, which show a maturity and experience of life unavailable to such a child. “Between the physico-mental structure of Minou and what is published under her name there is an incompatibility of structure.” He invoked in particular the works of Jean Piaget on the psychological development of children. He finally speculated on Ms. Drouet’s personality, and the possible reasons for her to write under the guise of her daughter.

Minou seems to hint at that in a letter to Pasteur Vallery-Radot, where she mentions “the article by B,” adding that “if this was true, I would have only to go back to classroom and burn everything I have written. This dreadful man says that some sixty-year-old dictates me what I write.”

Breton would not have written such a nonsense if he had only examined the writings of Ms. Drouet herself. As she told Julliard, in her youth she submitted some poems to a “floral games” competition, but did not win. Then around 1925 she had submitted her tale about the blind little girl, which was again rejected, and in 1948 she had again tried to publish it, still without success. She contributed articles to third-rate serials, especially religious ones. The book L’affaire Minou Drouet by André Parinaud reproduces two of her works, an article about the misery of fishermen and a short tale about a poor family, they are drab and show her as a mediocre writer, very far from the flamboyant imagination shown by Minou. And indeed Julliard said to Parinaud that he saw her writings, except her poems, and their dullness reassured him. When Ms. Drouet was accused of fraud, he envisaged publishing these texts, but he felt this would be ungracious to her.

It has been said that this “literary” quarrel was a way for media bosses to settle their accounts, in particular between Hélène Gordon-Lazareff of Elle and Françoise Giroud of l’Express, and that Julliard himself encouraged the debate in order to get more publicity. In particular he published in 1956 L’affaire Minou Drouet by André Parinaud, a detailed analysis of the whole controversy.

On January 14, 1956, Julliard published Minou’s first book, Arbre, Mon Ami, with 21 poems followed by letters she wrote to various people. In it she displays a flamboyant imagination, with powerful metaphors, and she freely creates neologisms. As remarks Carol Mavor, “like Apollinaire, she liked to make her poems into calligrammes, serpentine shapes, crystal cages of words.” At the same time she shows an immense sensitivity, a huge capacity for love towards all her friends, and a maturity usually not expected at that age. The book knew an immediate success. As writes Gottlieb:

By the time Arbre, Mon Ami was published, in January 1956, the publicity had been so unrelenting that within a few months the little book had sold forty-five thousand copies. (Later, Minou said, “I believe that René Julliard himself was at the bottom of this campaign.”) The celebrated actress Madeleine Renaud recorded a group of the poems and letters. A jazz band, Michel Attenoux et Son Orchestre, released the “Minou Drouet Stomp”—you can find it in a recent CD collection, Jazz in Paris.

A month after publication, Minou was put to the severest test of all. The February 13 issue of Life tells the story: To resolve the controversy, Minou agreed to take a test for membership in the Society of Authors, Composers, and Music Publishers. She was left alone in an office (from which “the telephone had been removed to prevent all communication with the outside world”) and given a choice of two topics to write on: “I’m Eight Years Old” or “Paris Sky.” “My eight years were already too sad,” she said. “I chose Paris Sky.” Within twenty-five minutes she had written a few dozen lines, and the judges, as Life put it, admiringly awarded her membership. ‘I’ve won’ yelped Minou.”

This poem, “Ciel de Paris,” was published in her second volume, Le Pêcheur de Lune (1959), with the following dedication (translated from French by me):

My Mummy, it is to defend you that I composed this poem, to prove that it was indeed me who wrote my little things. This text has been much more than an imposed subject, it has been for me an act of love towards you.

Roger Hauert – Minou Drouet (1956) (5)

Gottlieb tells then how Minou became a showbiz star:

Soon after the publication of her book, Minou’s life began its transformation from that of a controversial child poet to that of a full-fledged celebrity. She mixes with cabinet ministers at the Julliards’; she collaborates with famous singer-songwriters like Gilbert Bécaud; she’s photographed with Maurice Chevalier (he’s kissing her hand) and at the premiere of Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s The World of Silence. (She’s ten, and that big bow is still in her hair.) She stars in a movie. She launches and designs lines of children’s fashions. She demonstrates her guitar playing for Andrés Segovia. Pablo Casals teaches her his “Song of the Birds.” In Rome, she encounters Vittorio De Sica, and “quickly we were inseparable—we spent the entire day together.”

By this time, Minou was in rigorous training, every minute accounted for. She practiced the piano for hours every day; studied guitar and gymnastics; spent six years learning ballet. Soon she was touring France, appearing with other celebrities—pop singers and comedians—in nightclubs, theaters, arenas. Her act involved reading her poems aloud, singing to her own guitar accompaniment, playing “Clair de Lune,” Handel’s Passacaglia, Albinoni’s Adagio on the piano. (There’s a demented photograph of her standing on a piano, arching backward until her fingers are on the keyboard. She’s playing upside down!) In June 1957—she’s about ten—she’s at the Gaumont Palace in Paris, the largest theater in Europe (six thousand seats), performing between screenings of Gary Cooper’s Friendly Persuasion. In Brussels, she’s on with Jacques Brel and Charles Aznavour. At La Scala, she’s a guest of honor at a gala for Mario del Monaco. She’s thirteen when a rose is named after her.

She starred in the film Clara et les méchants directed by Raoul André in 1958 (some pictures from it can be seen here). In his article, Gottlieb recounts her private audience with Pope Pius XII, and how she made him laugh (the story can also be read in his shorter article in the JohnShaplin blog).

Claude Drouet’s influence on Minou has been much discussed. Because of her eyesight problems (and maybe the scoffs of other children), the girl did not attend public school for a long time, so she was educated at home by her mother. Julliard wrote in the introduction to Arbre, Mon Ami that Ms. Drouet raised her daughter with as much tenderness as severity, and that she constantly encouraged her to work, both for music and for her general education. Gottlieb writes: “The child was firmly disciplined—kept hard at work and punished for infractions of the rules.” In several letters, Minou mentioned being spanked on the buttocks, and Ms. Drouet did not deny using this form of punishment, which was considered normal at that time. However the press spread the rumour that Minou was a battered child, that one witness said having seen Ms. Drouet beating her daughter with a wet towel, etc. This image of an abusive mother is echoed in the article by Carol Mavor:

As in many fairy tales, Maman was the wicked stepmother. Mme. Drouet cracked the whip: ballet lessons, guitar lessons, hours of piano practice and gymnastics, “every minute accounted for.” Even though she could play Mozart while doing a backbend on the piano, Minou could never be perfect enough; one might even say “empty” enough. (“Innocence is … like air … there’s not a lot you can do but lose it.”) Mme. Drouet beat the innocence (air) out of Minou for the most minuscule mistakes.

Nevertheless, since Ms. Drouet had chosen to adopt a child who suffered the same blindness as her in her own childhood, one may speculate whether she used Minou’s talents in order to compensate for her own failure as a writer. Gottlieb writes:

Mme. Drouet encouraged her gifts—some would say exploited them. However devoted she was to her child, to strangers she could appear severe, controlling, overprotective. She would jump to answer questions put to Minou, declaim her poetry, boast about her talent. She was, clearly, a classic stage mother—using her child both to live out her own ambitions and to carry her and Minou onto a larger stage than was available to them in La Guerche-de-Bretagne. Minou read the situation with a cool precision: “My successes opened the door for her to opportunities that would otherwise have remained closed.”

Roger Hauert – Minou Drouet (1956) (6)

After her second volume, Le Pêcheur de Lune (1959), Minou ceased to write poetry. She tried writing novels and singing, studied nursing, married the artist and radio chronicler Patrick Font and soon divorced. Says Gottlieb:

In her early twenties, Minou published some fables, a novel for children, and a novel for adults, but the irresistible impulse to write had left her when she was fourteen: “When a bird no longer feels the desire to sing, it stays silent.” Her mother contracted Parkinson’s and needed her, her marriage petered out, and in her early thirties she retreated to La Guerche-de-Bretagne, to the house where she had grown up. There she cut herself off completely from her public past, making no appearances and refusing all interviews, until 1993, when, having remarried—her husband, Jean-Paul Le Canu, is a local garageman—she published a reticent and skimpy memoir, Ma Vérité (My Truth). But the public was indifferent. Her celebrity, like her talent, had disappeared.

In that book she wrote that since the death of her mother, “I sing in myself and I am the only one to hear me.” I quote again Gottlieb:

In her book, Minou acknowledged that part of her had found it hard to give up the fame, the applause, the perks: “You amputate part of yourself.” But she went on to say, “If I had the kind of child I myself was, I would try to protect her from all the temptations and assaults of the world. … Beyond the public recognition there’s everything that can’t be replaced—play, friends, family, a kind of freedom. Everything I had to live without.”

It doesn’t require much psychological acumen to figure out that what she needed to express and what she needed to suppress are the same thing: her anger at what had been done to her. “No one protected me. Adults rode on my back to exploit me. . . . I was caught up in the gears.”

She is also reported to have said: “I was sold like a soap, I was criticized as a child prodigy. I was neither.” Gottlieb stresses the responsibility of her mother:

And who was the person who should have protected her? Her mother—the one who exposed her to the world, first as a beleaguered victim, then as a performing seal. Yet it’s also her mother who rescued this semi-autistic, semi-blind orphan and gave her a life. Minou is rigorously fair, fully aware of her debt to the woman who adopted and succored her. But her account has very little warmth, and it leaves out a good deal—for instance, that her birth mother, who she discovered lived only a few kilometers away, had refused to meet her.

Under the influence of her mother, Minou Drouet rose from a near-autistic and nearly blind baby to a precocious poet with a powerful imagination, becoming a superstar … then abandoned poetry and fell back into silence, finishing her life in seclusion. Was the weight of her mother too heavy? Or was it the cruel adult world that tore her sensitive soul? Gottlieb concludes:

This is Minou Drouet before she’s eight—a primitive, an ecstatic, an original. A few years later, she’s become a phenomenon, a scandal, a by-word. “I was a lost child,” she says. “I was only a pathetic little animal,” she says. “What crime did I commit to be persecuted this way?” she asks. There is no answer. That she survived at all is a testament to her strength. That she lost Minou on her way to becoming Mme. Le Canu is the price she was willing to pay.

On the other hand, Carol Mavor writes:

Completely sugarcoated and consumed by the time she was fourteen, Minou lost her passionate desire to write.

As in the years before she was six, Minou is once again silent.

Roger Hauert – Minou Drouet (1956) (7)

The photographs by Roger Hauert shown in this article were scanned from the booklet Poèmes. They are included here for scholarly purposes. Please do not use them publicly without citing their authorship (or, for commercial purposes, without the express permission of the copyright holders).

Bibliography:

  • Minou Drouet, Arbre, mon ami, Julliard (1956).
  • Minou Drouet, Poèmes (with photographs by Roger Hauert), René Kister (1956).
  • Minou Drouet, Le Pêcheur de lune, Pierre Horay (1959).
  • André Parinaud, L’affaire Minou Drouet, Julliard (1956).
  • Chez les libraires associés, “Minou Drouet : ‘On a fait de moi un animal qui a mal’,” September 13, 2012.
  • Robert Gottlieb, “A lost child,” A critic at large, The New Yorker, November 6, 2006 (Full article reserved to subscribers). Republished in Lives and Letters, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Apr 26, 2011, pages 52–64.
  • Carol Mavor, “Tragic Candy, Time,” Cabinet, Issue 40, Hair Winter 2010/11.
  • Charles Templeton, An Anecdotal Memoir (1982), “Inside Television CBS & CBC.”

Bessie Pease Gutmann

Bessie Collins Pease was born on April 8, 1876 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Horace Collins Pease and Margaretta Darrach Young. The artist showed an early interest in art and by the age of sixteen she had entered and won many prizes at amateur art competitions. Her formal art training began in 1893 when she commenced her studies at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women. In 1896 Bessie decided that New York would be the best place to pursue her art career and after moving there she started two years of study at the New York School of Art.

The artist’s first paid work came from illustrating name cards and place cards, painting people’s portraits, as well as creating images for newspaper and magazine advertisers. After completing her course at the New York School of Art she enrolled at The Art Students League of New York. While studying there she met her future employer, Bernhard Gutmann, who after observing her portfolio of work invited her to work for his business. The firm Gutmann and Gutmann, formed in 1902 by Hellmuth and Bernhard Gutmann, was an art print business and Bessie was employed as a commercial artist to create fine art prints, illustrations for magazines and books, while still accepting commissions from other firms. In her first four years of employment she created at least fifty images for magazines and illustrated eight books, two of which were very popular at the time of publication and are still well known today. The first book is A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson, published in 1905, which was also her first book commission, additionally there is the 1907 publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. In 1906 she married Hellmuth and changed her signature from Bessie Collins Pease to Bessie Pease Gutmann.

Bessie Pease Gutmann – The First Dance Lesson (1923)

Bessie Pease Gutmann – Harmony (1940)

Bessie Pease Gutmann – Now I Lay Me (1912)

Between 1906 and 1920 her art adorned 22 magazine covers including Pictorial Review, McCall’s and Woman’s Home Companion, among others. The artist’s cover work brought her recognition and awards, both in the United States and Europe. Additionally, during this period she produced seventy-two postcards that became some of Gutmann and Gutmann’s most highly sought after and profitable products. The popularity of these postcards can be attributed to the fact that her illustrations avoided the social issues of the day, which in others was a common theme. The postcards had a broad range of subjects and could be purchased either singly or as a series. The groups entitled ‘The Five Senses’ (1909) and ‘Events in a Woman’s Life’ (1911) became so popular they were framed and sold in the department stores of New York City and Boston. Due to the high demand for these products at least ten different printing firms had to be used with Reinthal and Newman from America, Charles A. Hauff and The Alphasa Publishing Company of London being the principal printers. These works helped to popularise her images and therefore her sales of art prints also increased.

Bessie Pease Gutmann – Pictorial Review Magazine (Cover) (1917)

Bessie Pease Gutmann – The Five Senses (1909)

Bessie’s work was at its height of popularity in the 1920s. During this time the artist focused almost exclusively on producing art prints. There was no record kept on the number of copies that were printed or sold, but it has been estimated that the total number of prints, for images like A Little Bit of Heaven, The Awakening and In Shame, would number in the millions and were sold on a global scale. These huge numbers mean it is still possible to buy many of Bessie’s prints today and for less than one hundred dollars. Though famous for her images of babies and toddlers these are not the only subjects she focused on. Mothers with babies, cherubs, brides, war and religious themes as well as a small number of colonial America illustrations also appear in her portfolio.

Bessie’s popularity started to decline in the mid-1930s as America, and the rest of the world, started to take an interest in art styles that neither she nor her employer had any interest in producing. The war further hindered art production by restricting the amount of quality art paper and labourers needed to produce prints. In 1948 Hellmuth died, and thus Gutmann and Gutmann was sold, and the artist retired from commercial work.  However, she did continue to paint what she called her “relaxation art.” These images where mainly floral and fruit arrangements, still-lifes and landscapes. Bessie Pease Gutmann died on September 29, 1960, at the age of 84.

Bessie Pease Gutmann – Springtime (1927)

Bessie Pease Gutmann – Goldilocks (1921)

Bessie Pease Gutmann – Symphony (1921)

The artist used many different forms of painting media in her works. At the beginning of her career she was using watercolor paint with ink and pen outlines while her most popular works were created with charcoal pencil and then applying a light watercolor wash. When making her images she differed from other painters as she worked from photographs rather than models. She always carried around a camera and was constantly taking pictures of nieces, nephews, her own and friends’ children in various natural and unposed situations. Bessie kept an album of these photographs which she could study for use in future paintings. Below is an example of one such photograph and the resulting painting.

Bessie Pease Gutmann – The New Pet (Date Unknown)

Bessie Pease Gutmann – The New Pet (1922)

There is little information about the artist on the internet, therefore people wanting information should look at the book Bessie Pease Gutmann: Her Life and Works by Victor J. W. Christie which contains the most information. Other resources of use can be found at her Wikipedia page.

When We Had a Sense of Humor

When this ad was first brought to my attention, it was suggested that it might be a fake. It is easy to forget how uptight we have gotten about viewing the human body these days, but with careful analysis, I think it is clear that something like this would not have been that unusual in 1974 Germany.

Elefanten Schuhe Ad (1974)

It is worth noting some of the motivations and circumstances associated with this ad. First of all, this image was meant to convey humor as in “look at how cute and silly these children are!” For those who can understand the text, Elefanten Shoes is advertising the fact that their children’s shoes come in three widths, just like the girls—wide, medium and narrow.

The other thing is that although an ad like this would not have been so out-of-place at that time, still it would not have been used to target the general market. Clearly, this ad appeared in a publication targeting the countercultural demographic with money to spend.

There are certain advantages to using bare bodies to advertise this product. Any clothing might have distracted from the shoes which the company wished to emphasize and there is also a timelessness that would have been lost if the girls were wearing clothing of a particular era and nationality. Clothing would also have obscured the noticeably different figures of the girls as would a calves-down only view which we might see in a more mainstream ad.

So, who out there is going to make a fuss about this ad? And what does it say about our capacity for humor?

Compelling Images: Diane Arbus

Diane Arbus – A Child Crying, New Jersey (1967)

There’s something magical about a lens, especially the kind you find on the medium-format film camera that Diane Arbus used for this photograph.

These lenses present to the world a large, perfectly smooth convex surface (of a diameter to be measured in inches, not millimeters). Beyond this is a tunnel enclosing multiple glass surfaces receding into darkness, each surface giving off its own little distorted reflection.

Children of this girl’s age are fascinated by such lenses. They come up close and stare into their depths. If you let them, they will press their eye up against them.  Most photographers are unhappy about this; toddlers tend to be sticky with sugar, crumbs, tears, saliva and worse. And lenses are awkward to clean, easily damaged and expensive.

But Diane Arbus knew that great photographs don’t happen when you’re trying to keep your equipment clean. She also knew that the best portraits are a kind of love triangle in which the photographer, the subject and the lens exert an equal fascination on one another.  This photograph would be thrown out of many photography competitions and photo-clubs; it breaks too many “rules”.  For a start, a crying child is not a fit subject for a photograph and the photographer should have used a longer focal length and put more distance between herself and the subject.  But what is the right viewing distance for photographing a crying toddler?

We don’t comfort crying babies at arms-length, but hold them tight against us. The world of this photograph is that of the hands-dirty parent, not of the professional baby photographer, paid to present babyhood at its most appealing and reassuring.

The girl is poised on the knife-edge between two states: the self-absorption of crying and a reengagement with the world.  At first it’s not clear in which direction this transition is heading: is this a happy child provoked to tears by the attentions of a lady pushing a camera in her face? or is this an unhappy child being distracted from her crying by the strange object she’s been presented with?  The girl’s eyes are so powerful that it takes a few moments to notice the signs that the girl had already been crying when Arbus intervened and stanched her tears—the flushed cheeks, those perfect tears rolling down her jaws.

Looking at this photograph I have to remind myself that it is normal and healthy for children of this age to cry like this.  Not only does the intensity of her crying seem disproportionate to its likely cause, but the suffering expressed seems to exceed what a human mind and body can experience or endure.  This is probably a result of misapplied empathy; when I see a child crying like this I effectively ask myself the question: what would it take to make me to cry like this?  And I can imagine no loss, heartbreak or sorrow that could bring me to the tears, which, in a child of this age, are provoked by maybe the softest of falls or a refused lolly.

One Blond Little Girl … and Many Racists in Europe

EPA/Greek Police – Maria (October 2013) (1)

My previous article ‘The Abducted Girl in Anti-Roma Imagery‘ analysed the use, notably in the early 20th century illustrated press, of the theme of the European little girl abducted by Roma. Now I will discuss the affair of the “blond angel” Maria, where the discovery of a blond little girl in a Roma camp in Greece sparked an international hysteria, with unfounded accusations of child abduction, and led to similar accusations being raised against Roma parents with blond children in other European countries. It revealed deep-seated racist stereotypes about this ethnic group. Finally, we will see that the “child abductors” are not the Roma, but the official institutions that have systematically taken away children from families of ethnic minorities.

Since this article is already very long, I had to leave out a detailed analysis of media coverage—not only the openly hateful gutter press (The Daily Beast, Daily Mail, The Sun, etc.), but also the self-styled “serious” BBC, which only propagated subtler forms of prejudice. I might return to this aspect on another occasion.

I have used many sources: first an article in Spiegel Online International (October 28, 2013), second a consolidation of the case by Natasha Dukach in Fair Observer (June 26, 2015), which contains many links to media treatment of the case, and third an extensive study of the case in the French Wikipedia, with many links to important documents, media coverage and scholarly analyses (this work was awarded the “article of quality” label by Wikipedia). See the references at the end of this post.

The story

Early in the morning of October 16, 2013, Greek police raided a Roma community in the town of Farsala (in central Greece).

Police were actually looking for drugs and weapons, but then they caught sight of this girl who looks so different than the rest of the family — and that alone sparked suspicions and fueled speculation: Maria could have been abducted or sold to a Roma family that kept the girl as an attraction, just as dancing bears were once led on chains through the towns of Europe. They could have forced her to beg or work for them, it was thought. … 10 police officers banged on the door … and then pulled Maria out of bed.
“This child is not yours; it’s white,” yelled one of the policemen. The little girl didn’t cry. The police also took along the parents, and the three of them sat in the backseat of a squad car. –Spiegel Online International, October 28, 2013

The couple claiming to be the parents of the little girl, Eleftheria Dimopoulou and Christos Salis, aged 40 and 39 respectively, were kept in police custody and interrogated.

Maria with her adoptive parents, Eleftheria Dimopoulou and Christos Salis (October 2013)

When police questioned them about Maria, they lied at first. But they eventually told the story of the Bulgarian woman, a migrant worker who placed the child in their care. Nevertheless, mistrust persisted. Dimopoulou, the mother, had a forged passport. To make matters worse, the couple have reportedly been collecting child benefits for a total of 14 officially registered children, six of which must have been born within a 10-month period, according to the information that they provided. They allegedly collected 2,800 Euros ($3,850) a month this way (Spiegel Online International).

DNA tests confirmed that Maria was not the biological daughter of Dimopoulou and Salis. The couple was charged with child abduction and forgery. Interpol released a Yellow Notice stating:

On 16 October 2013, a police operation took place in a camp near Larissa/Greece. During the operation, a little girl (approximately 4 years old) was found and the subsequent DNA check revealed that she was not the biological daughter of the couple who presented themselves as her parents. Preliminary investigations revealed that the couple abducted the minor in 2009 under unknown conditions.

The affair immediately made headlines in the European press, which in most case relayed uncritically the accusation of abduction, and sometimes spread various rumors, that Maria was forced to beg, that she was raised for prostitution, or in order to be sold in marriage at age 12, etc. And according to the Spiegel article, “Some TV reports have even speculated that the family wanted to raise Maria so they could sell her organs, and one story on organ trafficking included images of the Roma settlement.”

On October 22nd, two “blond angels” (blond Roma children with blue eyes) were found in Ireland, a 7-year-old girl in Tallaght and a 2-year-old boy in Athlone. The Guarda (Irish police) removed them from their parents, but in both cases DNA tests revealed that they were indeed the biological parents of the children; the latter were thus returned to their families (The Telegraph, October 23, 2013; The Guardian, October 24, 2013). In Serbia, skinheads attempted to abduct a fair-skinned Roma child:

On 22 October news server Blic.rs reported that a group of men described as skinheads almost succeeded in abducting a two-year-old child last Saturday evening from in front of his home on Šafarikova Street in Novi Sad just because the child’s skin was fairer than that of his father, Stefan Nikolić. The men accused Nikolić, who is of Romani nationality, of having stolen the child from its biological parents.
Nikolić told Blic.rs that when he threatened to call the police, the hooligans ran away. (Romea.cz, October 23, 2013)

Reuters – International appeal

Maria was put into the custody of the charity The Smile of the Child. An international appeal to find her parents was launched, which got around 9000 replies. Panayiotis Pardalis, spokesman for the charity, said that “about 10 cases of missing children around the world are “being taken very seriously” in connection with Maria’s case. They include children from the United States, Canada, Poland and France.” (CNN, October 23, 2013) But none of the cases matched Maria.

Meanwhile the last explanation given by the couple, that they had been given the girl as a baby by a Bulgarian woman who couldn’t take care of her, was confirmed by their Greek lawyer and also by residents of the Roma camp in Farsala, who said that Maria’s biological father had been visiting a few days before. Investigations led to a Roma camp in Nikolaevo, Bulgaria, where many residents show the same features as Maria. A couple with 9 children was identified, Atanas Rusev and Sasha Ruseva, aged 36 and 38 respectively; DNA tests confirmed that they were the biological parents of Maria. A check at the hospital in Lamia yielded her birth certificate, dated January 31, 2009 (GR Reporter, January 14, 2014). Here is the version given by Sasha Ruseva:

In 2008, she went to Greece to harvest oranges and gave birth to a girl there. She actually intended to name her Stanka, but since nobody at the hospital understood that, she called the baby Maria. She said she had no money to acquire papers for the child. One of the women helping with the harvest offered to take care of the child and promised: “You can pick her up her anytime.” She never took any money for the girl, says Ruseva. She worked for another few days in Greece, and then she returned to Nikolaevo, she says.
Ruseva has seen pictures of Maria on TV. “I would take her back, but I’m so poor that I don’t even have enough money to properly clothe my children,” she says (Spiegel).

Stoyan Nenov/Reuters – Sasha Ruseva with 2-year-old son Atanas (October 2013)

The article adds, “And the Greek Roma who have raised Maria are thus neither child traffickers nor thieves, but merely the two adults who have been Maria’s father and mother since soon after her birth.”

Guilty until proven innocent, human rights violated

Media coverage mostly uncritically propagated accusations of child trafficking against Salis and Dimopoulou. As writes the Spiegel article: “The principle of innocent until proven guilty — which should also apply to Roma families — was ignored by the TV reporters. Every day now, the Greek government orders Roma communities to be searched for weapons, drugs and blond children.” Similarly the police assumed that they were guilty of abducting Maria. Indeed the above-quoted Interpol Yellow Notice said “Preliminary investigations revealed that the couple abducted the minor in 2009 under unknown conditions.”

EPA/Greek Police – Maria (October 2013) (2)

The Smile of the Child also propagated the worst stereotypes about Roma, accusing Salis and Dimopoulou of the most heinous crimes without proof. According to The Huffington Post of October 19, 2013, Panayiotis Pardalis, a spokesman for the charity, said “it was obvious” that she was not a Roma girl, while its director Kostas Yannopoulos told private Skai TV “We are shocked by how easy it is for people to register children as their own … There is much more to investigate, there are other registered children that were not found in the settlement, and I believe police will unravel a thread that doesn’t just have to do with the girl.” According to CNN, October 23, 2013, Pardalis also said “We don’t have any other information if this girl was forced to work or to beg on streets.” In a video interview shown on BBC News (October, 18, 2013), Yannopoulos declared “it shows that it could be kidnapping and combined efforts of these people to buy and sell children … They will use this little girl in the streets to beg because she was blonde and everybody says she was cute.” Then in a subsequent video on BBC News (October, 19, 2013), he said “she was either sold at maternity or later abducted for begging, because they use children for begging, or later for prostitution or even worse for selling for other purposes.” The nature of this “worse” is left to your imagination.

Natasha Dukach raises an important point:

Not a single article even mentioned the possibility of human rights violations to the Roma couple. As they adopted Maria illegally and had problems with their papers, no one considered their human rights. … Each European country has its own human rights laws, and these should be applied to everyone in the country, regardless of their nationality or ethnicity. Human rights laws were not applied in the case of Maria. The media failed to report on this angle or even ask the question as to whether gypsies have human rights.

Because Maria’s adoption by the Greek couple was informal, both their parenting rights and those of the Bulgarian biological parents were not taken into account. The fact that Salis and Dimopoulou fraudulently declared 14 children in order to obtain child benefits is not a valid excuse for this. Indeed, there have often been affairs of financial or fiscal fraud involving huge sums of money, but each time the (rich and non-Roma) defrauders saw their rights respected, and their family was not broken by authorities. Incidentally, fraud on taxes and social benefits are very frequent in Greece.

As remarks Jana Hainsworth in Euractiv, society tends more and more to remove children from their families because of “bad” parenting, but in the majority of cases, the family problems are due to poverty.

The informal adoption of Maria by Salis and Dimopoulou can be explained by Roma culture. Unlike Westerners, they do not function according to the model of the nuclear family, where parents “own” their children, whose interactions with the adult world are strictly regimented. They rather follow the extended family system, where children can be raised by cousins, uncles, grandparents, etc. and there is an extensive community involvement in the raising, education and welfare of children. Living as a “homeless nation” marginalized and excluded by mainstream society, they tend to follow their own rules, and not those of the countries where they are stigmatized and marginalized. As writes Louise Doughty in The Guardian of October 22, 2013:

Informal adoption is commonplace, particularly in societies where children are raised collectively by extended family units, and families of eight or 10 are not unusual. Across the world, children in economically difficult circumstances are left with grandparents, aunts and uncles, or sometimes given away because the birth parents cannot provide for them. This is hardly a practice unique to Roma society, and it is a long way from deliberate abduction for the purposes of “child trafficking”, an assumption that the non-Roma world has been happy to make with impunity.

The aftermath

As soon as it was revealed that Maria was indeed the biological daughter of the Bulgarian Roma couple, the press immediately lost interest in her case. Most journals that had propagated the accusation of abduction soon forgot her. Some turned their coats elegantly, such as the French online journal Atlantico: on October 22 it titled ‘Greece: “the blond angel” was at the heart of a child traffick and was destined to be sold’ then on October 24 an article by Emanuela Ignatoiu-Sora titled ‘Why affairs of “blond angels” unfortunately awaken prejudices against Roma, children kidnappers.’

Maria as a toddler (c.2011)

As writes Zeljko Jovanovic in The Guardian of October 28, 2013, under the appropriate title ‘Maria is Roma — so now she will become invisible once more’:

When the glare of the media spotlight fades, Maria will go back to a life of exclusion, without basic documentation or rights … But now that it has emerged that Maria is a Roma child, it is painfully predictable that global interest in her fate will fade. Whatever the legal fate of the couple who have been charged with her abduction, Maria, like other Roma children, will have to navigate her way through life suffering illiteracy, unemployment, and segregation in education.

So it has been very difficult to find more recent information about her case (apart in the French Wikipedia article).

On June 30, 2014, the tribunal of Larissa awarded full custody of Maria to the Smile of the Child charity. The decision was motivated by the need to avoid a change of environment for the girl, who had been in the care of the charity since October 2013. She is now going to school. On November 9, 2015, the appeals court of Larissa acquitted Christos Salis and Eleftheria Dimopoulou of the charge of abduction. But for their use of forged documents, they were sentenced to suspended prison terms, 2 years for Dimopoulou and 18 months for Salis.

It seems that Bulgarian authorities intended “to remove seven of Sasha and Atanas’s other children, placing them in different social care services including an institution.” (Jana Hainsworth, Euractiv, November 13, 2013) However I have no information on what was finally decided in this case, as well as on any Greek decision regarding the custody of the other children of Salis and Dimopoulou.

EPA/Greek Police – Close-up of Maria (October 2013)

Blond angels and dark devils

When the DNA of the two blond Roma children in Ireland was shown to match that of their brown parents, the two French media France 24 and L’Express titled ‘No “blond angels” in Ireland, the two Roma children given back to their families’ and ‘No “blond angel” in Ireland: two Roma children have been given back to their parents.’ Apparently, blond children are “angels” only if they are Westerners abducted by Roma. As writes Louise Doughty in The Guardian:

She is, we have been told repeatedly, the girl Greece is calling “the blonde angel”. She is certainly blonde — and she is a young child who deserves concern as all children do, particularly those facing poverty or discrimination. Whether or not she is angelic is a matter of stereotype rather than personality. She is angelic in the eyes of the media only in stark contrast to the circumstances in which she was found: in a Roma camp in Greece, with dark-skinned parents who, DNA tests have revealed, cannot be her birth parents.

Nikolay Doychinov/AFP Getty Images – Three Rusev children inside their family home (2013) (1)

Some people have explained by a kind of genetic defect the light skin and blond hair of Maria and of some residents in the Roma settlement of Nikolaevo. “Maria’s blonde hair and pale complexion was found to be due to her biological father’s albino gene,” writes Natasha Dukach in Fair Observer. In other words, this would be some sort of accidental occurrence.

Nikolay Doychinov/AFP Getty Images – Three Rusev children inside their family home (2013) (2)

However blond hair, a light skin and blue eyes are not uncommon among Roma people. In The New York Times of October 25, 2013, Dan Bilefsky quotes Dezideriu Gergely, the executive director of the European Roma Rights Center, based in Budapest:

Mr. Gergely, a human rights lawyer who has a Roma father and a white Romanian mother, noted that many Roma, who arrived in Europe from India centuries ago and are also known as Gypsies, came from mixed families.
He himself has light skin and blue eyes, which he said punctured the widespread stereotype that Roma have dark hair and dusky complexions.

Nikolay Doychinov/AFP Getty Images – Four Rusev children inside their family home (2013)

One can guess that Westerners don’t see white children with coloured parents in the same way as the reverse:

“Imagine if the situation were reversed and the children were brown and the parents were white, would they have ever been taken away?” said Dezideriu Gergely. … “The most dangerous consequence of the hysteria is that now we have to live in fear that our children can be removed from us on the basis of a wrong perception. No one should be profiled on the basis of their ethnicity.” (Dan Bilefsky, The New York Times)

Gene Demby in NPR, October 27, 2013, inquired with readers:

We asked readers on Twitter about times when people treated them and their relatives as if they weren’t related. Some stories were funny. But sometimes the cops were called.
One Asian-American woman told us that her white adoptive parents and her white husband are assumed to be related, while she was assumed to be the person who married in. But several women of color with light-skinned children said people just assume them to be their nannies and not their parents. Several people remembered that as children, people inquired with concern about their safety — in echoes of the Roma cases, strangers thought their darker skin parents might have been abductors. (Interestingly, white or lighter-skinned parents with darker children were instead assumed to be adoptive parents.)

Greek Police – Maria (October 2013) (3)

The dark-skinned Rom is seen as a symbol of dirt and crime. For dirt, compare the image of Maria on the day of the police raid, shown at the top of this article, with the one used in the international appeal to search her parents, shown here: fingers tainted purple, unkempt hair and a distressed look in the former, then neatly combed hair, a nice pink and white sweater and a smile in the latter. According to The Huffington Post, Panayiotis Pardalis, spokesman for The Smile of the Child said “She was afraid and under some psychological pressure when she arrived. Colleagues have been trying to communicate but are struggling. She seems to understand Greek but cannot speak it. She was living under bad conditions and was very dirty but is now safe.”

For crime, I quote again the words of Gergely given by Dan Bilefsky:

“It is mystifying that those accused of criminality are seen to represent the Roma community,” he said, noting that if people engaged in human trafficking it was because of severe poverty, not their cultural background. “Applying collective responsibility to the entire Roma community is unacceptable.” … Roma advocates counter that if there is crime among some Roma, it is the byproduct of severe economic deprivation and social exclusion that allowed a minority of unscrupulous ringleaders to exploit poor people desperately eking out an existence on society’s fringes.

Who are child abductors?

In my previous article, I quoted Thomas Acton, Emeritus Professor of Romani Studies: “I know of no documented case of Roma / Gypsies / Travellers stealing non-Gypsy children anywhere.” Quite to the contrary, there are many instances of minority children being systematically removed from their families in order to be put into the custody of white middle-class families. Well-known are the plight of the aboriginal children in Canada (the “Sixties Scoop”) and Australia (the “Stolen Generations”). The Yenish are a nomadic group living in Central Europe; in Switzerland, between 1926 to 1972, 600 Yenish children were forcibly taken from their parents by the “Oeuvre d’entraide aux enfants de la grand-route”, a charity set up to “protect children in danger of abandonment and vagrancy.”

So, sadly, the accused are rather the victims, poor, marginalized and unable to defend themselves.

References:

Further reading:

Didier Perrusset

On occasion, a fan of ours is also an artist and wishes to have his work published on Pigtails. Assuming the work is of sufficient artistic merit, I am delighted to comply.

Didier Perrusset is a French photographer doing this work as a serious hobby for pleasure and to create a kind of legacy. He began shooting photographs when he was fourteen, with a completely manual camera. He did some professional work for a few months for Keystone Press Agency. His influences include David Hamilton, Lukas Roels, Sally Mann, Jock Sturges, Evgeny Mokhorev and Irina Ionesco and strongly believes their work is legitimate art and not mere pornography. His main interest is street photography, cosplay photography and artistic nudes. Young girls do feature prominently in his work and he tries to shoot 2 or 3 times a week. He operates north of Paris and won 1st place by popular vote in a recent competition.

Didier Perrusset – Stripes and Light (2016)

The following images are from his ‘Angels’ series.

Didier Perrusset – Angel (2016) (1)

Didier Perrusset – Angel (2016) (2)

Didier Perrusset – Angel (2016) (3)

Didier Perrusset – Angel (2016) (4)

Didier Perrusset – Angel (2016) (5)

Didier Perrusset’s Facebook page

Perrusset also has an online book and there is a video interview in French.

This artist has some interesting insights to share and I regret he did not mention them earlier so it could have been included when this post was first published.  Apparently, the hysteria and paranoia in France has reached a fevered pitch in regards to shooting young girls in public.  For example, a friend of Perrusset’s was approached by the police in Paris because he was taking pictures of a little girl—his own daughter!  Three years ago, Perrusset experienced something similar during a Bastille Day Parade (July 14th); the police were told that he was shooting little girls in the audience while they were watching the parade.  -Ron [20170329]

Compelling Images: William Klein

Another fan of our site has agreed to write for us.  His proposal was to write a series about single compelling images, usually by noted photographers.  I really appreciate his contribution and remind readers that others are always encouraged to offer their writing to on-topic images.  -Ron

William Klein – Dance in Brooklyn , New York (1955)

We generally prefer depictions of people to be clear and legible. If a person is out of focus, or too far away to assert their individuality, or in some way obscured, we tend to move on to another, more legible image.

But some photographs and paintings perversely refuse to let us have things easy and, despite the illegibility of their subjects, intrigue us and hold our attention—art has this in common with sports and games: it is at its most rewarding when it makes us struggle and pushes us to dig deeper.

William Klein’s Dance in Brooklyn, New York is an example of such a photograph. It seems to pose the question of how little visual information do we need to find someone beautiful.

The children in this photograph were moving while the exposure was made. Klein’s camera (the shutter probably set at 1/15th or 1/30th of a second) has captured this movement as smears, blur and the loss of form and detail.

These, and the coarseness of the grain, have reduced the face of the girl in this photograph to a few broad lines and surfaces. It has the look of an African mask.

The reading of the face depends, more than with any other part of the human body, on the legibility of fine detail—think of how little difference there is between a genuine smile and that same smile held too long and grown stale; think of the kind of details that allow us to distinguish identical twins.

One would expect, given this degree of illegibility, that it would be impossible to get any sense of the girl’s beauty or personality. Yet the little that comes through still manages to give a strong sense of a slim, shapely italic face.

And despite the camera’s imperfect, chaotic rendition of her gesture it has nevertheless captured something that a faster shutter speed (which would freeze the action), or a movie camera, would not: the girl’s energy, grace, and audacity, her confidence, playfulness and sense of humour. There is a trance-like sense of abandonment in the angle of her head and in her open mouth; her eyes at first appear to be looking at the photographer, but a subversive reading has them rolled back into her head, as if in ecstasy.

The photograph offers us a beauty that is especially poignant because it ultimately eludes us: we never really “see” this child. All we get is a tantalising glimpse of a personality whose vigour was imperfectly and beautifully captured for a fraction of a second some 62 years ago.

Inspired by the Old Masters: Bill Gekas

Bill Gekas is a portrait photographer who is self-taught. He started his work in the mid 1990s, however, the artist’s first works were not published on the internet until 2010. These early works, mostly portrait-style photographs, quickly gained attention and praise; therefore the photographer started to enter them in competitions with many of them placing or winning outright.

Bill Gekas – Untitled (2016)

Bill Gekas – Red Beret (2011)

Bill Gekas – Andalucia 1881 (2012)

Most of his works are modelled by his daughter, Athena, and are inspired by, though not direct recreations of, the Old Master painters. The planning of the photograph takes many hours. First a sketch of the image is made in a sketch book, then the props and costume are sourced or made. The actual production of these pictures only takes between fifteen minutes to an hour, with most of the time spent on setting up props, the camera and lighting. The model is then brought in at the end of the set-up process and the photograph taken. When working with Athena, the creative process is made more enjoyable for her by keeping her time on the set to a minimum, as well as allowing her to act out the scene, rather than being told to pose or given direction. Additionally, she is also involved in and provides ideas during the preplanning of the shoot, which makes the process a collaboration between artist and model. Only a small number of these images are produced each year, as photography is not the artist’s primary source of income.

Bill Gekas – Field Day (2013)

Bill Gekas – The Curator (2015)

Bill Gekas – Pears (2011)

Bill Gekas – Coastal Gatherer (2016)

Not all of Bill’s images are in the classical style, or feature his daughter, with his 500px account being the best site to see his full range of photographs. Recently he has taken a detour into street photography, which the artist finds liberating, as it is the opposite of his portrait style photography, where he had full control of the final image, to a process where the only control is where the photographer places himself and when he pulls the shutter. The street photography images can be found on his Instagram account.

Bill Gekas – Mutual (2015)

Bill Gekas – Urban Jungle (2016)

The best and most detailed online interview with Bill Gekas can be found in Issue 10 of Creative Light Magazine; if you have a spare twenty minutes you should read it.

Album Cover Art – Spring 2017 Edition

Time for some album art! In this batch we have some old stuff and some new stuff, with cover art from Black Sabbath, William Fitzsimmons, The Game, Tones on Tail and many others, so let’s get started.

Our first album cover is for a band we all know, Black Sabbath. This is the cover for their live Reunion album, and it is spectacular. First off, it sort of references the cover of Ozzy’s solo album No Rest for the Wicked. But beyond that, I just love these demon toddlers (probably portrayed by the same model) with their little cloven hooves and tiny wings. That, along with the fact that they’re girls, makes them anti-cherubs, I think. The cover was designed by Glen Wexler, who also did the cover for Van Halen’s Balance that I profiled several years ago (and that Wexler himself commented on). You could almost say this is a counterpart cover to Balance. It may just be my favorite Black Sabbath cover now. Well, it’s a tossup between this and Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (front and back), beautifully illustrated by Drew Struzan.

Glen Wexler – Black Sabbath – Reunion (cover)

Glen Wexler Studio (Official Site)

Wikipedia: Glen Wexler

Our next cover is for Relative Ash’s Our Time with You. I really know nothing about this band other than that they formed in the mid-90s and are said to sound something like Deftones (I haven’t listened to them). They seem to have put out this one album and then broken up. If anyone has more info about the band, this album cover or its creator, you are welcome to comment on it. I like the simplicity and the Pandora’s Box symbolism here.

Photographer Unknown – Relative Ash – Our Time with You (cover)

Here are a couple of covers for albums by singer-songwriter William Fitzsimmons. The first featured album, Until When We Are Ghosts, was his debut. An interesting factoid about Fitzsimmons: both of his parents, who were also musicians, were blind.

Photographer Unknown – William Fitzsimmons – Until When We Are Ghosts (cover)

I really love this next cover though. The little equestrienne in her dressage jacket and bowler derby is certainly adorable. The album itself is actually the second of two albums that are thematically linked, with each one being about one of Fitzsimmons’s grandmothers. The sad tale of the singer’s father and his father’s mother (the subject of this album) is recounted on Fitzsimmons’s website if you want to read it. You can find it here.

Photographer Unknown – William Fitzsimmons – Charleroi: Pittsburgh Vol. 2 (cover)

Now here’s an album with a cover featuring the childhood countenances of three well-known country-pop singers, Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt and Dolly Parton, just in case you ever wondered what they looked like as little girls. By the way, if you aren’t aware of it, the young Dolly has been portrayed (wonderfully, I think) by Alyvia Alyn Lind in two made-for-television movies as of this post.

Artist Unknown – Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, Dolly Parton – Trio II (cover)

Tones on Tail was a side project of Bauhaus guitarist Daniel Ash that only lasted a couple of years but nevertheless put out several singles, three EPs and one LP, that being this album, Pop. The cover depicts a nude toddler girl balancing upon a wall near the woods, but there is something not quite right about her face/head. It almost looks like she is wearing a mask and wig combo, or at least a wig. That hair just does not look real. If it is, it’s a really horrible haircut. That, combined with the darkness of the trees in the background, invest the image with an undeniable creepiness. The photographer of the image is listed on Wikipedia (and presumably in the album’s notes) as Mr. Atlas, which makes sense I suppose, as he probably didn’t want t be identified for taking a nude photo of a child in the woods.

Mr. Atlas – Tones on Tail – Pop (cover)

And speaking of toddlers with things on their head, our next album cover shows a little girl wearing some kind of warrior’s helmet in addition to her pink princess dress and pink tennis shoes. The album is Take It Like a Man by the Butcher Babies, a heavy metal band fronted by two female vocalists. Obviously the masculine helmet is intended to contrast with the girlishness of the dress and, well . . . the girl herself.

Photographer Unknown – Butcher Babies – Take It Like a Man (cover)

Blood Moon: Year of the Wolf is a compilation album by rapper The Game. I don’t really know much about The Game or this album, but I really liked the cover, with its sassy little girl in red showing a big bad wolf who’s boss. Now, what ever could that be a reference to? 😉

Photographer Unknown – The Game – Blood Moon: Year of the Wolf (cover)

Our next cover is for Unknown Mortal Orchestra‘s single release SB-03, the third in an ongoing series of psychedelic instrumental tracks released by the band every Christmas. The cover was created by Jenny Nielson, front man Ruban Nielson’s wife. The child in the photo may be herself when she little or someone else entirely. I really don’t know, but I like her creative flair nonetheless.

Jenny Nielson – Unknown Mortal Orchestra – SB-03 (single cover)

Anders Osborne is singer-songwriter heavily influenced by the blues. All of his output so far has been released on small labels, most of them specializing in blues and jazz music. Little kids flipping off the camera is nothing new to the internet, but I think this is the first time I’ve actually seen it as an official piece of art, in this case for Osborne’s album Peace.

Photographer Unknown – Anders Osborne – Peace (cover)

Our penultimate album cover is actually the first in a whole series of anthology albums collecting lesser known late sixties pop music. The album series features the exact same artwork, only each one is rendered in different colors. At a guess, I would say the original illustration came from the pen of Aubrey Beardsley, but try as I might, I was unable to confirm that. So, as with most of these, the artist will have to remain unidentified for now.

Artist Unknown – Piccadilly Sunshine, Part One (cover)

And last but certainly not least is this beautifully illustrated cover for Robin Crutchfield‘s Into the Dark Wood. Crutchfield is one of those peculiar souls who has been quietly making his own sort of art and music on the fringes for decades, influencing many but never quite becoming as well-known as those who came after. He began as a performance artist which soon transitioned into music, and then, along with his band DNA, he became one of the pioneers of the avante-garde musical movement known as No Wave. Eventually he began making music eerily similar to (but not quite) Medieval music, of which Into the Dark Wood is his latest. The cover art, I’m quite certain, is by some Victorian fairy artist, though I’ve been unable to pin down who. My hunch is Edward Robert Hughes, but again I was not able to confirm it. I would really love to know who created this piece, so if anyone out there is willing to research this more thoroughly I would be eternally grateful. I would love to feature the original image here, especially if I can get a larger one online somewhere.

Artist Unknown – Robin Crutchfield – Into the Dark Wood (cover)

Poetry in White: Will and Carine Cadby

I get to meet a lot of people in the course of producing this site and, in one case, this has resulted in a deep friendship. Not only is Stuart a great fan of this site, but he informed me that anything he can scan from his collection is at our disposal. This was an especially generous offer because, from his descriptions, he appears to have one of the world’s biggest collections of little girl lore. With such an extensive collection, I assumed he could fill many of the gaps I have been trying to fill in. But alas, no collection is perfect and he does not recall owning any of the postcards from ‘La Journée de Suzette’ by Armand Gaboriaud. However, when I mentioned that series, it reminded him of a charming book called A Child’s Day (1913) using photographs by Will and Carine Cadby and accompanied by the poetry of Walter de la Mare. The samples he sent were just so precious and so I requested he scan the entire book.

There is not much biographical information available except for a kind of curriculum vitae. The couple were English and lived in London until settling later in Kent. Will Cadby, in particular, was personally known by Alfred Stieglitz and they maintained a written correspondence. Will began taking photographs in 1891 and his first exhibitions were in 1893. In 1894, the couple were elected members of The Linked Ring and began exhibiting in The London Salon. In 1896, Will began experimenting with white-on-white photography with models dressed in white shot with a white background. This signature style is apparent in A Child’s Day. The couple published their first of several children’s books in 1902, Dogs and Doggerel. For the most part, Carine did the writing and production while Will provided the photos. From 1912–1932 the Cadbys wrote a column called “London Letter” for Photo-Era magazine until its demise.

The Cadbys’ work had an international following and was appreciated in the United States as well as the European subcontinent. A particularly delightful example is Die Heilige Insel (The Holy Island, 1917). This kind of book would have been well-received during this heyday of Europe’s fascination with fairies.

Will Cadby – Die Heilige Insel (1917) (1)

Will Cadby – Die Heilige Insel (1917) (2)

It is remarkable that there have been so many books published in various languages containing images of little girls accompanied by poetic description. What follows are excerpts from de la Mare’s writing followed by the image that appears on the opposing page. We are introduced to our subject thus:

But nevertheless, as sweet as I can,
I’ll sing a song to Elizabeth Ann—
The same little Ann as there you see
Smiling as happy as happy can be.
And all that my song is meant to say
Is just what she did one long, long day,
With her own little self to play with only,
Yet never once felt the least bit lonely.

Will and Carine Cadby – A Child’s Day (1912) (1)

… At last from the pillow,
With cheeks bright red,
Out comes her round little
Touseled head;
And out she tumbles
From her warm bed. …

Will and Carine Cadby – A Child’s Day (1912) (2)

… So in her lonesome,
Slippety, bare,
Elizabeth Ann’s
Splash—splashing there;
And now from the watery
Waves amonje
Stands slooshing herself
With that ‘normous sponge.

Will and Carine Cadby – A Child’s Day (1912) (3)

… But sailing the world’s wide ocean round,
In a big broad bale from Turkey bound,
All for the sake of Elizabeth Ann
This towel’s been sent by a Mussulman,
And with might and main she must rub—rub—rub—
Till she’s warm and dry from her morning tub.

Will and Carine Cadby – A Child’s Day (1912) (4)

Now twelve above,
And twice six beneath,
She must polish and polish
Her small, sharp teeth.
The picture, you see,
Entirely fails
To show how nicely
She nipped her nails. …

Will and Carine Cadby – A Child’s Day (1912) (5)

Here all we see
Is Ann’s small nose,
A smile, two legs,
And ten pink toes,
Neatly arranged
In two short rows.

Will and Carine Cadby – A Child’s Day (1912) (6)

… Yet—though, of course, ‘twould be vain to tell a-
Nother word about Cinderella—
Except for a Mouse on the chimney shelf,
She put on her slippers quite—quite by herself,
And I can’t help thinking the greater pleasure
Is to dress in haste, and look lovely at leisure.
Certainly summer or winter, Ann
Always dresses as quick as she can.

Will and Carine Cadby – A Child’s Day (1912) (7)

And there she is (on the other side),
The last button buttoned, the last tape tied.
Her silky hair has perched upon it
A flat little two-stringed linen bonnet.
Each plump brown leg that comes out of her frock
Hides its foot in a shoe and a sock.

Will and Carine Cadby – A Child’s Day (1912) (8)

… While all the pigs
From York to Devon,
Have finished their wash
Before half-past seven.
But Elizabeth Ann
Gets up so late
She has only begun
At half-past eight
To gobble her porridge up— …

Will and Carine Cadby – A Child’s Day (1912) (9)

The following passage does not seem to make sense. Throughout the book, de la Mare incorporates the girl’s activities with those of wild beasts as in the pig reference above. In this case, it seems the poet did not have anything to say about the image itself.

… But Time, she nods her head—
Like flights of the butterfly,
Mammoths fade through her hours;
And Man draws nigh.
And it’s ages and ages ago;
Felled are the forests in ruin;
Gone are the thickets where lived on his lone
Old Bruin.

Will and Carine Cadby – A Child’s Day (1912) (10)

When safe into the fields Ann got,
She chose a dappled, shady spot,
Beside a green rush-bordered pool,
Where, over water still and cool,
The little twittering birds did pass,
Like shadows in a looking-glass. …

Will and Carine Cadby – A Child’s Day (1912) (11)

Please to look and see it there,
Dangling in her fleecy hair.

Will and Carine Cadby – A Child’s Day (1912) (12)

… “Happy, happy it is to be
Where the greenwood hangs o’er the dark blue sea;
To roam in the moonbeams clear and still
And dance with the elves
Over dale and hill;
To taste their cups, and with them roam
The fields for dewdrops and honeycomb.
Climb then, and come, as quick as you can,
And dwell with the fairies, Elizabeth Ann!” …

Will and Carine Cadby – A Child’s Day (1912) (13)

But this little morsel of morsels here—
Just what it is is just not clear: …
… But it’s all the same to Elizabeth Ann.
For when one’s hungry, it doesn’t much matter
So long as there’s (something) on one’s platter.

Will and Carine Cadby – A Child’s Day (1912) (14)

Now fie! O fie! How sly a face!
Half greedy joy, and half disgrace;
O foolish Ann, O greedy finger;
To long for that forbidden ginger! …

Will and Carine Cadby – A Child’s Day (1912) (15)

… And see! That foolish Ann’s forgot
To put the cover on the pot;
And also smeared—the heedless ninny—
Her sticky fingers on her pinny.
And, O dear me! Without a doubt,
Mamma has found the culprit out. …

Will and Carine Cadby – A Child’s Day (1912) (16)

… And here upon the stroke of three,
Half-way ‘twixt dinner-time and tea,
Cosily tucked in her four-legged chair,
With nice clean hands and smooth brushed hair,
In some small secret nursery nook,
She sits with her big Picture book. …

Will and Carine Cadby – A Child’s Day (1912) (17)

As soon as ever twilight comes,
Ann creeps upstairs to pass,
With one tall candle, just an hour
Before her looking-glass.
She rummages old wardrobes in,
Turns dusty boxes out;
And nods and curtsies, dances, sings,
And hops and skips about. …

Will and Carine Cadby – A Child’s Day (1912) (18)

… But now, dear me!
What’s this we see?
A dreadful G—
H—O—S—T!
A-glowering with
A chalk-white face
Out of some dim
And dismal place. …

Will and Carine Cadby – A Child’s Day (1912) (19)

“But now, my dear, for gracious sake!
Eat up this slice of currant cake;
Though certain sure, you’ll soon be screaming
For me to come—and find you dreaming. …”

Will and Carine Cadby – A Child’s Day (1912) (20)

But soon as Nurse’s back was turned
Ann’s idle thumbs for mischief yearned.
See now, those horrid scissors, oh,
If they should slip an inch or so!
If Ann should jog or jerk—suppose,
They snipped off her small powdery nose! …

Will and Carine Cadby – A Child’s Day (1912) (21)

But higgledy-piggledy
Slovenly Ann
Jumps out of her clothes
As fast as she can;
And with frock, sock, shoe,
Flung anywhere,
Slips from dressupedness
Into her bare. …

Will and Carine Cadby – A Child’s Day (1912) (22)

… This brief day now over;
Life’s but a span;
Tell how my heart aches,
Tell how my heart breaks,
To bid now farewell
To Elizabeth Ann. …

Will and Carine Cadby – A Child’s Day (1912) (23)

I was informed that there was some confusion about the date.  I had originally placed the date of 1913 for A Child’s Day which may have been confused with a film produced that year.  A colleague has informed me that the first edition was published in 1912 by Constable and was in a 12″ by 9¾” format, while the second edition was 9¾” by 7¾” and published in 1915 with a third reprint in 1920—sometimes referred to as the second edition by those who are now reproducing copies of many of these books with expired copyrights.

Official Walter de la Mare Society Website