What is my future ?
This charming but subtly political booklet by Vroni Holzmann is a collection of prose and photographs drawn from the exhibition of the same name (shown at Ocean Terminal, Leith , 28 January - 4 March, 2007) based on the Double Take project which focused on the contrast between the perceived and real worlds of mothers and their babies.
Reviewed by R. Eric Swanepoel
(author of Saving the World and Being Happy (The Computer Ager) http://www.word-power.co.uk/catalogue/141371756x)
If all I told you was that Vroni Holzmann's latest project was a collection of baby photographs you might be forgiven for yawning and moving on. Perhaps the information that there was a political subtext to it would intrigue you; perhaps it would confirm your worst fears and you would run a mile. Both these reactions would be understandable. Faced with the photographs themselves, however, and the words accompanying them, I think you would be at least as moved as I was. They say that most men feel no particular warmth towards babies until they've fathered their own. Given the fact that I am male and not a father you might regard me as a hard critic to please, and not really the target demographic for an exhibition of this nature. All the more reason, then, to take my words seriously: this is powerful stuff. Let's get the facts out of the way: "What Is My Future?" is fundamentally a collection of black and white photographs of babies (and of a couple of young children). Most of the (excellent) portraits are the work of photographer, pianist, social entrepreneur and mother, Vroni Holzmann, the driving force behind the project. A few were taken by the babies' mothers, all of whom are bringing up the children "in circumstantial difficulties", some with little or no support from the fathers. Accompanying each photograph is a brief statement from the subject's mother describing the challenges she faces and her hopes and fears for her child.
The first thing that struck me was the attractiveness of the children. Without exception every one of them could have been a candidate for a nappie or baby food advertisement. In fact, when I visited the original exhibition I heard a viewer voicing the thought: "Were the babies selected for their looks?" Ms. Holzmann emphatically denies any form of selection: these were just the kids that came forward for the project. Looking at their faces one sees intelligence, humour, curiosity, a capacity for love, a need for love, and, most strikingly in these bright-eyed bonnie bairns, raw potential! It is easy to imagine such children, given the right breaks, becoming happy and fulfilled adults, and (why not?) leading artists, musicians, writers, scientists, doctors, nurses, teachers, engineers, sports people, lawyers and politicians. (As the latter they could scarcely be worse than the current lot!) Is this a credible eventuality? Is this particular bunch of children exceptional? Yes to the first question and, most likely, no to the second. One of the clever things that Ms. Holzmann has achieved is to afford us the opportunity to really study the faces of young people. As one of the mothers pointed out in her statement, our culture is not very child-friendly, and I suggest that we are too prone to dismiss children as nuisances rather than to open-mindedly appraise them as fellow human beings. These children are probably not exceptional, they are kids like any other (and, like others, have amazing potential). If we were able to dispassionately examine the brats we see screaming in the aisles of supermarkets, might we not also see the value, the potential in them? The children in the photographs are just children, but Ms. Holzmann is telling us that all children are special - to be valued, cherished and nurtured by all of us adults.
This leads to the second major point made by this exhibition. The mothers' statements (all simple, brief and eloquent) paint a clear and distressing picture of the extent to which our supposedly advanced and caring society fails to value, cherish and nurture young people by failing to support their carers. The stark implication is that unless we rethink our priorities then many of these lovely children smiling at us from the photographs will fall by the wayside, along with their struggling mothers. In the abstract it is all too easy to blame single mothers for their tearaway kids. Faced with poignant evidence of these women's best intentions under the worst of circumstances (family breakdown, the fecklessness of partners, health problems and, of course, poverty) and their obvious love and concern for their babies, it becomes more difficult. When one investigates each case further it becomes well-nigh impossible to judge and condemn. But even the most hard-bitten unfeeling reactionary, condemning women for falling pregnant without having cast-iron guaranteed secure lives ahead of them (and who does?), could surely not wish to blight the lives of so many young innocents. The future of these children is our responsibility, and inseparable from our future as a society. For all of our sakes let's make it good.
I understand the Double Take project, of which the exhibition is one outcome, served to open up the horizons of the participants and so improve their lives. Let's hope that Ms. Holzmann gets further funding for more such invaluable and innovative work. In my opinion we need more people like her (and fewer war-mongering politicians). I urge you to purchase this marvellous little booklet (£3.99 from Word Power). It would make a great gift to any new mother in difficult circumstances, letting her know that she is not the only one to struggle. For further information visit: www.babyphotographie.com and www.vronionline.net
Eric Swanepoel's exhibition review was posted underneath the Sunday Herald review by Vicky Allan on this site: http://www.sundayherald.com/life/people/display.var.1185270.0.off_to_motherland.php