Serving Arizona State University Online Since 1995  Current Issue: Thursday, February 10, 2005





Thought-Provoking: Nude realism

ASU professor shows true nature of children in controversial art

 by Katie Kelberlau  published on Thursday, February 10, 2005

<em>Danielle Peterson / STATE PRESS MAGAZINE</em><br>Photography professor Betsy Schneider considers a photograph she took of her child. Her new exhibit, titled
Danielle Peterson
Danielle Peterson / STATE PRESS MAGAZINE
Photography professor Betsy Schneider considers a photograph she took of her child. Her new exhibit, titled "Scenes from Childhood," is currently on display at the Sixth Street Studios in Phoenix.


The photo is of a little girl who looks about 6 years old. She has blond hair, blue eyes and pale skin. She has managed to stuff and contort her body into a rubber pail of water and is staring up at the camera with wide eyes and a peaceful expression.

The photograph was taken on a hot Arizona day by Betsy Schneider, an ASU assistant professor of art. It is of her daughter Madeleine, who is now 7 years old.

Schneider has been a photographer since 1990 and has always been interested in taking photographs of children, especially Madeleine and her other child, 3-year-old Viktor.

"I am very interested in the idea of childhood and how we see children in our culture," she says.

She says children are not simply little, angelic things, but rather people with thoughts and concerns and complexities.

It is the reality of children that Schneider wants to capture; children, as they actually are, not dressed up or adhering to a romantic ideal of childhood.

It was nearly a year ago in March of 2004 that Schneider opened a show in London depicting daily snapshots of her daughter, artistically reminiscent of the types many parents take of their own children.

The pictures were shown in three blocks with a series of photos from when Madeleine was 9 weeks, 2 years and 5 years old. In most of the photos, Madeleine was naked, though occasionally she wore underwear.

Schneider's goal was to provoke people to think about commonly held notions of childhood, but some reacted with hostility.

Before she knew it, Schneider -- a woman who by her own admission had never received more than an inch of press in her life -- was all over the news. "Inside Edition" contacted her for an interview and the English media was relentless

"As exciting as it was to have all this attention, it was not about my work," Schneider says. "One newspaper, the London Times, actually referred to me as an 'artist' in quotes, and that was the closest I came to having the art discussed. It was all about the controversy."

Schneider says it was traumatic and thrilling to be the subject of public interest, but she realized that if she pumped it up, she would lose her credibility as an artist. So she kept a low profile and waited for the story to blow over.

Now, nearly a year later, the media storm has subsided and Schneider has opened a new show.

The show, which opened at Sixth Street Studios in downtown Phoenix on Friday, also focuses on pictures of her daughter, but are not like those that caused the controversy last year. Though some of the pictures were taken with Madeleine in the nude, the photographs in this show are more intuitive, taken when the lighting and the moments were just right.

One is a picture of Madeleine sitting at a Formica table at a diner concentrating on eating a bowl of ice cream. The sun filters through the window, lighting her hair and the table. It captures, quite adeptly and charmingly, a real vision of childhood.

Jesse Martin, a construction management sophomore at Mesa Community College, went to Friday's opening.

"The pictures were really beautiful, I think especially because they were of her daughter. It was like a very loving mother being really creative taking pictures of her kids," says Martin.

He says the photos were mostly of kids being kids, just doing things they would normally do. He especially liked the shots of Madeleine eating ice cream and of Madeleine in the bucket.

Martin says that the child was naked in a lot of the shots but that "it was nothing different than a 2-year-old running around the house."

"It was nothing explicit," he says.

He adds that any controversy over the nudity is ridiculous.

"There were a lot of people at the show and most people seemed to like it a lot," he says.

Before grad school, Schneider worked for Sally Mann, a photographer known for stirring people up with her photos of children. She is, Schneider says, very interested in exploring and suggesting the dark side of children.

"I like to think that I do that, too," she says. But she adds that her photos are really not all that dark. Her focus is more on depicting children without adult condescension or idealism.

She believes that both herself and Mann incite controversy because they are not adhering to the comfortable vision of innocent childhood.

Schneider also is currently working on opening a collection of portraits at Mills College in California.

Schneider says her goal is to photograph everyone she knows, and has more than 200 pictures that include images of friends from high school, her second-grade teacher and her middle school gym teacher.

"Maybe this is my answer to not sending holiday cards," Schneider says.

Actually, she says, she wanted to photograph something other than her children.

"I am totally obsessed with the people in my life," she says. "A photograph is a little rectangle. You can have lots of them. We all like to collect things. I guess I do it with my friends."

Despite her recent interest in portraits, Schneider plans to continue taking photos of her children with the hope of instigating conversation about childhood and society's conception of children.

People like to see children as simple and innocent, and react to images that show otherwise, she says.

Schneider doesn't shy away from the controversy her work may cause, but wants it to be understood for what she says it is: reality.

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