© Cuny Janssen

Skopje, Macedonia, 2003
© the artist

Cuny Janssen
Finding Thoughts

Dutch photographer, Cuny Janssen's (b. 1975) portraits of children and young people offer a fresh perspective on both the medium and method of photographic portraiture. In the light of this, developing and responding to contemporary social as well as artistic challenges form the crux of her practice.

Based in Utrecht, Janssen's work has taken her to locations including Norway, Macedonia, Iran, India and the UK. Her creative influences are equally diverse, ranging from Marcel Proust to contemporary artist Thomas Struth, and from photographer Robert Adams to the Swiss 19th-century painter Ferdinand Hodler. Her in-depth familiarity with their work has become an important element of her development as an artist.

Janssen's interest in the medium of books began in 2002 with a publication of images of children and young people in India. However, the true beginnings of her portraits and landscapes series came with her photographic approach to portraying children in areas of conflict. Janssen went to Macedonia in 2003 when ethnic violence was sporadic and many families were (and remain) displaced from their homes.

Cuny Janssen is not an opportunistic artist. Her working process starts with the discipline of a plate camera and ends with a very careful edit long after the photograph has been taken. Her portraits come about through long periods of time spent with sitters and their families although the specific names of her sitters are not identified in the final works. Her photographs are neither snapshots nor formally poised moments. Alluding to a rich history of the portrait in art, her colour images actively engage in the quandaries of the portrait as psychological space and philosophical construct.

Both the photographs of landscapes and children, juxtaposed without textual interpretation, carry an ambiguous undercurrent of expectancy and stasis in equal measure. We might relate them to Proust's concept of "extra-temporalisation", meaning literally "a place out of time".

Overall, Janssen's practice has positive connotations; her ostensible subjects are of young lives and unspoiled nature. Combined with the children's resilience and the displaced feeling of the landscapes, Janssen's project emerges as a highly contemplative body of work, encouraging an optimistic reading of the enduring truths of survival and beauty.

The artist's book "Finding Thoughts" is co-published by The Photographers' Gallery and Cuny Janssen.

Exhibition: 17 June - 31 July 2005
Gallery hours: Mon-Sat 11 am - 6 pm, Sun noon - 6 pm

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