Belgian photographer Frieke Janssens has produced a series of disturbing and controversial photographs that depict children smoking.
In May 2010, the internet spent a good day or two expressing its outrage at a YouTube video that showed an Indonesian toddler lighting up.
While the rest of us moved on fairly quickly, Belgian photographer Frieke Janssens was so affected by the video it inspired her to make her own images representing children and tobacco – a series called Smoking Kids.
“[With Smoking Kids] I wanted to isolate the viewer’s focus upon the issue of smoking itself… there is a nod to less attractive aspects, on the line between the beauty and ugliness of smoking.”
Hoping to succeed where government adverts, stark messages on packets and pictures of decaying lungs have failed, Janssens shows the ‘ugly’ side of smoking by dressing her toddlers in a variety of adult outfits and having them perform the familiar rituals of the smoker - blowing smoke rings, pulling individual cigarettes out with their teeth and lighting one fag with another.
Naturally there were no real cigarettes on site - chalk and sticks of cheese were used instead with candles and incense to produce the smoke.
How effective Smoking Kids is as an anti-smoking message is open to debate. Some of the images are effective at making a mockery of smoking and its associated idiosyncrasies, and raise the horrifying reality that, to impressionable children, smoking can look 'cool'.
On the other hand, some of Janssens' images are heavily stylised to the point of distraction, diminishing the harrowing impact of seeing a child with a cigarette. She seems to be at least partly in love with what she calls the ‘aesthetics’ of smoking – something that seems at odds with using children in the first place.
What do you think? A powerful anti-smoking image or just an attempt to stir up controversy? Take a look at the photos below and leave us your opinion:
To see how Frieke Janssens made her images, watch this behind-the-scenes video: