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Work / Publication

Cuny Janssen’s soft and poignant series documents childhood in Amsterdam

There is something intriguing about the story of someone else’s childhood. Even the mundanities of everyday life reveal something about someone, whether it be their relationships with siblings, or the little things like what they had in a packed lunch. But in particular, it’s the environment in which people grow up that goes on to filter into adult character, a concept which has entranced Dutch photographer Cuny Janssen over a number of years.

In her creative career, Cuny has travelled the globe to photograph children and their individual environments. She’s gone from India to Macedonia, onwards to Iran, South Africa, Italy and America, always in search of something different but nevertheless finding a common denominator. “In these locations she has found young people who are strikingly individual but who share, no matter their circumstances, a perfection that suggests a common origin,” the photographer’s biography explains.

Despite the global scale of her work, more recently and over the time span of three years Cuny decided to reflect on her own home, documenting the public spaces and children growing up in Amsterdam. Now housed in a multifaceted publication, There Was a Child Went Forth, her findings are documented into three volumes and a cassette.

Taking its name from a Walt Whitman poem, “about the imprints of life collected during childhood,” it was the concept of an imprint, a lasting impression that settles firmly in someone’s mind, that inspired Cuny’s project as a whole. To represent this visually, across the three volumes there is no text, allowing each of the photographer’s images to speak softly but poignantly for themselves.

The first two volumes are photography based, varying from a “selection of intimate portraits, children only, and city landscapes with an emphasis on trees and parks,” Cuny explains. In these photographs, she subtly evokes the environment that encapsulates growing up in a city, where everyone’s proper garden is an urban park and each of these images is then attached to a portrait. The third volume sees Cuny’s camera lens zooming out, “made from a bigger distance and show us more of the city and the different situations in which the children are photographed”. The more descriptive element of There Was a Child Went Forth sits within and on the attached cassette, an extra layer of childhood nostalgia that adds the final piece to Cuny’s photographic puzzle.

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Cuny Janssen: There Was a Child Went Forth

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Cuny Janssen: There Was a Child Went Forth