“Think of the children”

children smoking
Frieke Janssens 2011 “Smoking Kids”

the New Woman of the 1920’s boldly asserted her right to dance, drink, smoke, and date—to work her own property, to live free of the strictures that governed her mother’s generation. (…) She flouted Victorian-era conventions and scandalized her parents. In many ways, she controlled her own destiny.

A swirling daze of smoke, bows and coats–a characteristic of a ‘flapper’ in the 1920’s.

The series of photographs in “Smoking Kids” created by Frieke Janssens in 2011 have significant signifiers, but to many, could evoke the connotations totally different from the world around them.

Why is this? How can one series of photographs created by the same artist mean so many different things to an array of people? The answer is context and ideology.

Upon looking at this series I came to the conclusion that it had a 1920’s feel with the smoke captured in the style of film noir, the ‘classy’ clothing, picturesque makeup and the pose of the subject matter–the children. From this, the values of the 1920’s became known where the rise of the bourgeoisie also brought about the heightened social life where smoking was a casual sight–thus a sign of freedom.

But why children?

I related this to ideal of passive smoking where it was commonly advertised that passive smoke was in fact more harmful that smoke first hand. Thus I concluded that these photographs were commenting on the notion–“Smoking isn’t just suicide. It’s murder.”–where smokers not only harms the individual but too the the public including children. With my knowledge of previous warnings displayed by the government about passive smoking, I assumed this was just another advertisement.

This was before I looked deeper.

The artist–Frieke Janssens–from Belgium was inspired to produce this series upon watching a Youtube video of a two year old baby smoking 40 ciggarettes a day.

Janssens choice to use children as the main focus was to eliminate the audiences preduice against the adult smoking to allow the audience to comment on the notion of smoking and its reference as an ‘adult’ activity.

During this time, Belgium also had passed the law to make smoking illegal in casinos and cafes as well as the already smoke-free zones of restaurants and food serving pubs. This was argued by Femish Anti Cancer League were the judge agreed that the passive smoke and notion of smoking has harmful effect of employees and non-smokers.

This new law saw an uproar in Belgium where adults were feeling minimized to the mind of a child where they could not distinguish good from bad and their freedom was snatched from them.

Therefore, this series of photographs may have a personal attachment to the smokers of Belgium where as people in Australia may just see it as another advertisement.

To my 7 year old cousin, when asked what she thought this artwork meant, she replied “to make kids not smoke”. Surrounded by today’s culture where smoking is prominent, and no further insight into the artist, the values of the past she was able to link this to the ideology that children aren’t allowed, nor suppost to smoke at a young age.

Thus, communicating that connotations are derived from the interpretation of an image and may not mean the same to every person in the world–it is based on context.


CBS News, 2010, 2 year old baby smoking 40 cigarettes a Day, last viewed 21 March 2015, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z7ADwl0GSrk&gt;

History.com staff, 2010 The Roaring Twenties, History.com, last viewed 20 March 2015 <http://www.history.com/topics/roaring-twenties&gt;

Janssens. F, 2011 Smoking Kids, FriekeJanssens, last viewed 20 March 2015 <http://frieke.com/#!/projects/smoking-kids/37/&gt;

Zeitz. J, 2009, Joshua Zeitz, Flapper: A Madcap Story of Sex, Style, Celebrity, and the Women Who Made America Modern, Crown/Archetype

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