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Big Picture: Smoking Kids

This is a photo collection of Smoking Kids by Frieke Janssens. These controversial photos remind us that between 80.000 and 100.000 children worldwide start smoking every day and there is a death caused by tobacco every 8 seconds.

Frieke Janssens’s motivation in making this Smoking Kids photos is that he watched a video from Youtube a chubby Indonesian two-year-old smoking one cigarette after another, totaling an average of two packs a day.

Recognizing the many socio-cultural differences between the East and the West, the artist’s plan to confront the Western viewer with such conflicting, surreal images grew and she departed on her new artistic mission. “Smoking Kids” is the title of Frieke Janssens’s somewhat controversial photographic project.

Fifteen children aged between four and nine pose in a startling adult way in front of the camera, each smoking a cigarette, cigar or pipe.

They look like they stepped right out of a 1960’s TV show, which adds a modernity theatrical, retro quality but also something whimsical and unreal to the images. The effect of these photos on the viewer has proven to be both overwhelming and diverse.

A disturbing YouTube video of a tubby Indonesian toddler with a 40-a-day habit – unsurprisingly, he was taken in hand by child protection services after it appeared – inspired Flemish photographer Frieke Janssens to pose young children with cigarettes. 

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Styled in nostalgic vintage clothes that nod to an undetermined old-fashioned era, the kids look oddly convincing mimicking smokers’ casual stances as they blow smoke from their noses and flick out their wrists

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For the actual shoot, sticks of chalk and cheese stood in for fags, which were added in post-production.

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Janssens found willing participants through her commercial work, friends of friends and casting agencies.

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Struck by how disturbed she had felt after watching the YouTube video, Janssens had wanted to explore what might happen if she, too, removed smoking from its adult context.

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Smoking has long lost its power to shock, she believes; this gave some of that power back.

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Fortuitously, her work coincided with the strengthening of Belgium’s ban on smoking in public places, lending the project an extra dimension.

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“At the time, people were against the ban because they thought it treated smokers like children,” she says. “But now we’re used to it, people believe it’s a good thing.”

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The ban has added to the sense of smoking as a bygone activity. “Now the days when we could smoke in public places, offices or planes seem to belong to another, more glamorous era: the jazz age, Mad Men.”

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Janssens insists she didn’t set out to get a particular reaction, good or bad. “I just wanted to present the contradiction [between children and smoking] and stimulate thought.”

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If she had really wanted to shock, she might perhaps have snapped the children in their school uniforms. Instead, with them dressed as retro adults, it’s easier to say it’s all make-believe

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