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Daddy and I
August 22, 2007 9:14 PM   Subscribe


 
Methinks the "creepy" tag is warranted.
posted by Poolio at 9:16 PM on August 22, 2007


Sure, he could have gone with white women and their adopted Asian sons, but he had to go for the vague 'creep factor,' a cheap shot if there ever was one. Classy.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:19 PM on August 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


These are all fine upstanding leaders of society and an example for the rest of us.

I will not bite the carrot.
posted by CynicalKnight at 9:20 PM on August 22, 2007


posted by Kadin2048 Sure, he could have gone with white women and their adopted Asian sons, but he had to go for the vague 'creep factor,' a cheap shot if there ever was one. Classy.

Seconded. I'd like to know how many of these men are married or in a relationship, and why the partner was excluded.
posted by fandango_matt at 9:21 PM on August 22, 2007 [2 favorites]


As sweet as father/daughter pictures anywhere. Go love. Ain't nothin' creepy 'bout it.
posted by kozad at 9:22 PM on August 22, 2007 [4 favorites]


um, yeah. i for one want to know why in almost every single photo, the older white male had his hand on his daughter's butt (or on her crotch, in one instance). eww.
posted by buka at 9:22 PM on August 22, 2007 [2 favorites]


Yeah, my first reaction upon seeing this collection was that it was utterly and totally creepy. Maybe it's because I recently finished reading Lolita, but holy crap those poses do not look paternal.
posted by Phire at 9:23 PM on August 22, 2007


...why the partner was excluded.

It looks to me like the partner was included.
posted by Poolio at 9:24 PM on August 22, 2007 [8 favorites]


The on the bed poses are xxx creepy.
posted by Oyéah at 9:25 PM on August 22, 2007


What kozad said. It's a Rorschach test.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:28 PM on August 22, 2007 [7 favorites]


Most of the shots strike me as innocuous-to-banal, but as the artist's statement mentions, it is interesting to consider the cultural ramifications. Personally, I think that if your first impression on seeing a white guy with a Chinese daughter is "creepy" ('OMG She's on his lap! They're sitting on a bed! What kind of monster is he?!?') you could probably benefit from watching less Dateline.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:28 PM on August 22, 2007 [12 favorites]


I get what kozad and Alvy are saying, but I still find them creepy. All the hands on butts/crotchal areas, the bed ones, and the one in the woods where the dad looks likes he is holding her there despite her protests make me feel a bit uncomfortable.
posted by arcticwoman at 9:33 PM on August 22, 2007


I'm open to other interpretations but I think the photos were staged for the purposes of looking creepy. Some of the poses are just unnatural; they're just not the kind of photos that a good portrait photographer would take if they're trying to be flattering.

It's trying to be Dateline fodder.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:33 PM on August 22, 2007


Shouldn't the title of the page be Daddy and Me? I'm not grammar expert.
posted by Gnostic Novelist at 9:33 PM on August 22, 2007


Alvy, it's not so much "White guy with Chinese daughter" bit that's creeping me out, it's more the "middle-aged man with young, vulnerable girl being posed for pictures wherein the girls usually look uncomfortably stiff and the men are grinning awkwardly at the camera" bit.
posted by Phire at 9:35 PM on August 22, 2007 [4 favorites]


Shouldn't the title of the page be Daddy and Me?

That's not an "I"... it's an erect penis.
posted by Poolio at 9:36 PM on August 22, 2007 [3 favorites]


The photographer probably told them to put their arm around the girl. It's an odd choice in subject but I'm not convinced these guys are all perverts. Some of the guys are pretty weird, but there are a lot of awkward men out there.

The lesson? If you're a white male, you shouldn't ever be near children because everyone will suspect you're a pedo.
posted by polyhedron at 9:36 PM on August 22, 2007 [20 favorites]


What kozad said. It's a Rorschach test.

No, it's not. A person conducting a Rorschach test has no control over what reflections or associations the inkblots conjure up in the subject's mind, whereas a professional photographer has tremendous control over a photograph and its connotative content. All the more relevant when the photographer admits to being motivated by his reflections on "the change of the power relationship between East and West."
posted by ori at 9:37 PM on August 22, 2007 [4 favorites]


I think that Chinese girls are the most common adoptees from Asian cultures; I believe boys are less commonly placed.

Most of my kids' pictures with myself or my husband involve someone's hand on a kid's bottom; that's just because they're small and the bottom is right there under your hand. There's nothing hinky about it.

A lot of adoption agencies require you to be partnered, I think it varies from country to country and I can't speak to China's policies on allowing unpartnered men to adopt, but it's probably not unlikely that these men are being photographed by their partners/the child's other adoptive parent.

People who have kids often cuddle in bed with them, and often are photographed this way. If that's a problem, the problem is probably not with the parent-child dynamic but with the viewer.

Pictures of dads with their kids are awesome. Period.
posted by padraigin at 9:39 PM on August 22, 2007 [7 favorites]


What kozad said. It's a Rorschach test.

Even better. It's a racial Rorschach test.

Black people: finding or looting? You decide!

As an aside, the other day I was driving down the street here in Suburbia when I saw a middle-aged man walking with his arm around the shoulders of a young teen boy. The boy had his arm around the older man's shoulders as well (the older guy was kinda short). They were walking down the sidewalk together; both of them were smiling and apparently having an in-depth conversation.

I personally think it's sad that my first reaction was ZOMG PEDOPHILE RUN LITTLE BOY RUN!!!!1111, when, in all likelihood, it was a loving father and son just having a heart-to-heart talk.

I think its time that we, as a nation, turn off To Catch a Predator and get ourselves a slightly less jaundiced view of human affection.
posted by Avenger at 9:40 PM on August 22, 2007 [11 favorites]


kadin: I don't think there are many adopted Chinese boys. I was always under the impression that these girls would have been left for dead if these men didn't adopt them.
posted by polyhedron at 9:41 PM on August 22, 2007 [2 favorites]


You can make a picture imply almost anything. I'm with Alvy and co. Unless there are facts in evidence that something other than paternal affection is on display here, this is just more (white, middle-aged) male-bashing under the guise of concerned citizenship. How do we know there aren't mothers in these families? How do we know what the photographer asked the subjects to do? Why is it that white male/asian girl images make us think -- or some of us think -- of the ugliest things?

Fuck that shit. I bet there is not one dad of a daughter on Metafilter (and I'm one) whose daily life with his kid could not be photographed in a way that insinuated evil. Have we not had enough of this witch hunt culture?
posted by fourcheesemac at 9:43 PM on August 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


Pictures of dads with their kids are awesome. Period.

Interrobang
posted by Poolio at 9:43 PM on August 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'm not convinced these guys are all perverts

I don't anyone thinks all these dads are perverts. What I question is why the photographer set up all these photos so that they all seem like perverts.
posted by arcticwoman at 9:45 PM on August 22, 2007 [7 favorites]


As far as I know, the reason that there are more Asian girls than boys put up for adoption is largely due to the somewhat outdated idea of sons being more important than daughters that many families still hold, especially in rural areas. If you have a daughter, she will marry someone else and become part of her husband's family, whereas you son can actually carry on your bloodline and your material possessions. In rural areas, still, a girl's primary purpose is to find a good family to marry into, and by extension a daughter has virtually no ability to support her parents in their old age.

That, combined with the one-child-policy, means that a lot of girls are simply abandoned so that the family is free to have another child, hopefully a son, without being grossly penalized by the government.

That said, padraigin, I reiterate the effect that posing for these pictures have on the viewer's reaction. I'm not saying all these men are pedophiles - I'm sure many of them are perfectly nice, reasonable and "normal" fathers. I still think the collection is creepy, but that's on the photographer, not on the family, no?
posted by Phire at 9:46 PM on August 22, 2007


On preview, arcticwoman said it much more eloquently.
posted by Phire at 9:47 PM on August 22, 2007


The only thing creepy here is the photographer who set up these people to humiliate them and fulfil his political/artisitic agenda. Fuck O. Zhang and the horse he rode in on.
posted by LarryC at 9:47 PM on August 22, 2007 [6 favorites]


Is there sexual tension between daughters and fathers? Duh.
posted by Citizen Premier at 9:51 PM on August 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


They missed this one.
posted by Meatbomb at 9:51 PM on August 22, 2007 [2 favorites]


I wonder if they'd seem so pervy if it made more sense in your cultural worldview: say, a younger dad with a child of the same ethnicity.

But a lot of people who do international adoptions do it in part because they (and their partner) are older and biological children aren't practical or possible, and domestic adoptions aren't always as cut-and-dried and often have age or gender restrictions as well. So these are older white guys with Asian kids: welcome to every playground in the Bay Area, I'm not seeing anything I don't see every day of my life.

Although, the girls aren't usually wearing cheongsams. That does kind of add a little unnecessary Suzie Wong factor into the whole shebang. But other than that: just another day at the park.
posted by padraigin at 9:52 PM on August 22, 2007 [3 favorites]


"Who's in the photo?"
"Daddy and I are in the photo."
(Correct)

OR

"What's wrong?"
"The cops busted in the front door because of a photo of daddy and me."
(Correct)
posted by bunglin jones at 9:52 PM on August 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


There are some good comments on this photo series over at Racialicious.
posted by arcticwoman at 9:54 PM on August 22, 2007


Hahaha! I was all set to be the only "eww!" comment.
Imagine my surprise when I read the comments.
I've been on mefi for awhile now, I should know better.
posted by mrnutty at 9:55 PM on August 22, 2007


From the Artists's Statement:

"By photographing adopted Chinese girls and their Western fathers in America, I try to capture the affection between a female child and an adult male. What is the nature of this complex relationship, especially when different ethnic and cultural backgrounds are introduced? Through the emerging feminine power of the adolescent girl to the mature father, each image explores the relation of the two often divided cultures: East and West.

On a broader level, this project reflects my interest in the change of the power relationship between East and West. I am curious about how the West sees the rapid development of contemporary China. The growing girls symbolize the future potential of China. Like the girls adapting to their new situation, China is learning from the West to grow its economy. Is its emergence from regional power to global economic force a change that will be accepted and encouraged? Or will it be seen as a rebellion against the rules that the West has established for others to follow?

Likewise, as the girls grow up, will they remain inn ocent adoptees under the tutelage of their Western patriarchs? Or will their progression to maturity disturb the relationship's equilibrium?"
posted by fandango_matt at 9:55 PM on August 22, 2007


I don't think these guys are actually perverts at all, however this photographer has followed a long history of photographers, such as Diane Arbus, in subverting her subjects. Where Arbus what famous for "freakifying" people, O's playing up asian girls as sex objects/slaves and the white male pedophiles that prey upon them. While the photos are kind of interesting, it isn't exactly original to sexualize your subjects and asian girl/white man dynamic is very cliche.

Also, I think it's borderline abusive to portray these fathers and daughters like this. I think we can safely assume these are just proud fathers posing with their adoptive daughters and she is twisting that in her portrayal. The pictures on the bed are particularly creepy as is her choice to include a lot of pictures where the girls' expressions are blank and passive. Really it's everything good photography and art isn't.
posted by whoaali at 9:58 PM on August 22, 2007 [16 favorites]


You know who else are total perverts? Pediatricians. I hear those sick fucks just spend all day fondling children.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 10:00 PM on August 22, 2007 [4 favorites]


I am not saying that older white couples adopting asian girls is creepy. I am not saying that a white dad posing with his chinese daughter for a photo is creepy. I am not even saying that a father and daughter cuddling in bed, or patting on the tush is creepy. All those are normal, and father and daughters of all races/ethnicities do these things every day. Still, there is something in the way the photographer set up these photos, something about the awkwardness, the stiffness, the not-looking-at-each-other, the cheongsams, that just seems wrong. I don't know, I'm not an art critic, I don't have the words for it. I just have this feeling that those are not photos I would want to be in with my dad, and also that these poor photo subjects have been exploited: their perfectly normal father-daugher love has been subverted and perverted by the photographer.
posted by arcticwoman at 10:00 PM on August 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


Good Lord, that's fucking creepy. In nearly every photo, "Dad's" hand is splayed over the girl, and in over half the girl is on Dad's thigh. Not to mention the one where Dad's hand is in her crotch.

They look like photos of dirty old ex-pats in the Phillipines, or young or soldiers in 'Nam, posing with prostitutes. The same half-embarrassed, half-expectant-of-fantasy-soon-to-be-realized, half-awkward-how-close-can-I-get-my-hands expression on the men's faces.

Ewwwwww.
posted by orthogonality at 10:01 PM on August 22, 2007 [2 favorites]


I think most mefi readers know these are normal people just taking pictures, but what about joe six pack sitting on a jury.

GUILTY HANG EM is the verdict.
posted by IronWolve at 10:03 PM on August 22, 2007


I disagree with you whoaali but then again I have no idea who Arbus is, so am arguing from a position of ignorance.

My reaction to these images is feeling unsettled about the subjects relationship to each other.

This is a form of prejudice on my part - and the photographer here is forcing this prejudice out of me and making me face it.

Great post
posted by Samuel Farrow at 10:04 PM on August 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


And I somehow hate, hate the fact that the photographer has the same last name as me. Yeah yeah, so do about a hundred million other people worldwide, but still. Being associated with this, however remotely, bugs me in a really really petty way. Why must Chinese surnames be so common?
posted by Phire at 10:05 PM on August 22, 2007


MetaFilter: I'm not convinced these guys are all perverts
posted by Poolio at 10:06 PM on August 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


That's the thing, I think it's sad that our own cultural baggage makes us see these photos that way, and that they're possibly even calculated to make us see them as titillating because of the style of clothing on the girls.

If you saw the same poses with a 35 year old guy with a girl of the same ethnic background, wearing ordinary clothes that a nine-year-old would wear, this wouldn't even be a topic of discussion. But make it a 50 year old white guy with a nine-year-old Asian girl in a cheongsam, and it's instant porn.

I don't know if we should blame the photographer, the parents, or ourselves for that. I definitely see where the naysayers are coming from, but I'm firmly and consciously not going to see it that way myself.
posted by padraigin at 10:06 PM on August 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


Phire writes "Why must Chinese surnames be so common?"

Just guess, but a billion Chinese probably has a lot to do with it. ;)
posted by orthogonality at 10:08 PM on August 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


"middle-aged man with young, vulnerable girl being posed for pictures wherein the girls usually look uncomfortably stiff and the men are grinning awkwardly at the camera"

Technically shabby photos of dads and their daughters: An attempt to get at deeper social meanings by provoking a reaction that may be lost using glossily glam photos, or gallery of pedos? You be the judge!

Like arcticwoman said about my POV, I can see where you're coming from, but I still think it's a mistake to default to a sexualized context when looking at the photos. I'm not going to assume to know the photographer's exact intentions nor take his statement at full face value, but the more I think about it, the more these images fit themes of colonization's cyclical nature, the past and future of cultural and economic evolution, hell, even fathers' roles in their families, as mundane as that is.

Pulling a Helen Lovejoy allows people to ignore those points, and says a lot about a myopic mindset of prurience and judgementalism that is far too common in our culture.

Yeah, I'm judging the judgers.
*Puts a quarter in the Glass House Sin Bin*

posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:09 PM on August 22, 2007


I think most mefi readers know these are normal people just taking pictures,

Wrong. It is a professional artist purposefully and with great intent composing and staging each shot with the aim to express some certain feelings/ideas. These are not family photos to put in the scrapbook, these are artistic statements.
posted by arcticwoman at 10:10 PM on August 22, 2007 [2 favorites]


posted by Phire Why must Chinese surnames be so common?

I know what you mean. Ever try calling China? Every time you wing, you get the wong number.

*runs*
posted by fandango_matt at 10:13 PM on August 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


I think Whoaali has succintly nailed a lot of what I would have said. I think the photographer deliberately set the stage to be controversial.

There's the setting, generally seen in romantic shots of couples, there's the costuming, which suggests alienation rather than familial inclusion, there's the blank expressionist faces of the females and the stiff uncomfortable smiles of the fathers. And the innate, unstated issue of Asian girl as love slave memetic. Frankly, the whole thing reeks of set up to me.

I wouldn't be surprised to find out that none of these girls and men are in the same families and that the entire photo shoot was manufactured.

That said, I if some races/sexes were changed, and the settings were identical, I wonder what the outrage would be? That would be an interesting racial experiment. How outraged would people be if those were Black fathers and White girls? Or White women and Latino boys? Or any of the other combinations that play into common porn themes like this one does.
posted by dejah420 at 10:15 PM on August 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


"Like arcticwoman said about my POV, I can see where you're coming from, but I still think it's a mistake to default to a sexualized context when looking at the photos."

It's hard to call an instinctive reaction a "mistake". I didn't beanplate this series of photos and conclude after 15 minutes of careful scrutify of layout, lighting and subject demeanour that these photos were creepy, and I can't exactly control my knee-jerk response.

Everyone obviously takes different things away from the photographs. I wouldn't have considered the interesting colonization points you brought up, for example, and the fact that this collection has sparked such a discussion at all demonstrates that it has some merit, for sure. But just because my reaction reflects the questionable obsession of our society with sexuality doesn't mean it can't be one of the points that the artist meant to bring up. Art is a reflection of reality, and all that. Ignoring the default response isn't going to make it go away.
posted by Phire at 10:21 PM on August 22, 2007


well this is fair.
posted by OrangeDrink at 10:22 PM on August 22, 2007


Yeah I have to reiterate what articwoman is saying. These are not just snapshots of fathers and daughters that we find disturbing because of a variety of prejudices. The choice of the father, the daughter, the clothing, the stance, the setting, have all been carefully chosen to illicit our emotions and responses and what O is going for here is creepy, which if it had a point I might be able to handle. But this is outrageous art for the sake of outrage. She has no point. She has sexualized/demonized these people. She wants us to see these fathers as creepy pedophiles and their daughters as abused sex objects. Unfortunately there are too many of both of those things in the world, but none of them are present in her photos. This is a bizarre comment on the asian fetishism and child abuse, O's art, in my opinion, reveals nothing and is just trying to illicit a strong reaction because she really has nothing to say.

By the way I was an art history major and am a photographer (not professionally), so I have you know strong opinions about this sort of thing.
posted by whoaali at 10:22 PM on August 22, 2007 [4 favorites]


/me uses intricately complicated kung-fu shit involving iron-wrought chopsticks against fandango_matt
posted by Phire at 10:23 PM on August 22, 2007 [2 favorites]


While I did find the stark size comparison between the fathers and daughters to be creepy (ie. large hands on mini mini dresses), I thought this picture to be fairly moving. Here, both father and daughter share a sweet awkwardness, leaning in but not touching, smiling with just a touch of bewilderment.

Then the photographer had to go put in a phallic fountain spurting in the background.
posted by popsciolist at 10:25 PM on August 22, 2007


Pulling a Helen Lovejoy allows people to ignore those points, and says a lot about a myopic mindset of prurience and judgementalism that is far too common in our culture.

I don't think it's "pulling a Helen Lovejoy" to call out the photographer on this. There are two scenarios here:
-One is that the photographer is an incompetent hack who can't get a decent portrait without making his subjects look stiff and uncomfortable.
-Two, the photographer is fairly competent, and the effect was calculated, in which case I think it's a cheap shot: a sophomoric, dehumanizing attempt at portraying "colonialism" in portraiture.

In either case, it's not really good art. It reminds me of stuff I used to see in undergrad photo classes, people exceeding their own skills while trying too hard to be edgy and just failing miserably as they try to bluster their way out of it in the critique.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:29 PM on August 22, 2007 [2 favorites]


You're all weird. As is the tabloidesque photographer. Boring as batshit photography with about 12 magnitudes too much colour. The only time any of these pictures ought to incite the creepiness thought is if there is a known story of creepiness attached to the family. Otherwise, your meter for creepiness has been maladjusted by shocktorialising in bullshit pseudo-news programs that derive from <1% of any given type of population. Most men are not pedophiles. None of those images is unusual or abnormal or creepy in any way. Your insistence on having them conform to your warped perspective is illuminating and strange.
posted by peacay at 10:35 PM on August 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


A nice concept - too bad most of them look like badly photographed family photos. How is this a decent photo? They're engulfed by the shrubbery! (Although I'm sure there's an artsy-fartsy answer to support the shrubbery)
posted by Xere at 10:36 PM on August 22, 2007


Yeah exactly Kadin, it is so much easier to say something that is loud, obvious and in your face in an attempt to convey some sort of emotion or point of view. What is really hard is to convey something that is subtle, complex and not entirely obvious. It is easy to look at a white father and his adoptive daughter and draw the painfully easy parallels to colonialism and child sex tourism in Asia. What is really hard is convey something that is beyond that. Something that shows families and people who are more than stereotypical cliches, who are not defined by their race or sex, but who have complex, real and deep relationships with each other that are not readily conveyed in a snapshot. It can be done, but O doesn't appear capable of this so she's taken the easy way out.
posted by whoaali at 10:36 PM on August 22, 2007


I think the outrage and the "ew, creepy" comments just show that the photographer succeeded in making his point. he plays with our stereotypes and he wins.
good job.
posted by keepoutofreach at 10:39 PM on August 22, 2007


As a white, middle-aged male I'm very hurt from all the bashing and I demand an apology.
posted by 2sheets at 10:47 PM on August 22, 2007


posted by keepoutofreach I think the outrage and the "ew, creepy" comments just show that the photographer succeeded in making his point. he plays with our stereotypes and he wins.

She.
posted by fandango_matt at 10:47 PM on August 22, 2007


I'll bet this one is giving a lot of people fits, but he's just holding her hand, which happens to be in her lap. I don't see the creep factor in this photo at all, probably because they seem more relaxed with each other than some of the others. Probably most of the creepiness I do see is a result of others seeing it first. Where I live I see white dads and asian daughters all the time, and parents naturally and normally put their hands all over their kids all the time, hello, kids are small and a parent's hands will cover a whole limb, backside, or other body part without it meaning anything at all.

The creepiest thing is what's going on in the viewer's head, that's for certain.
posted by zarah at 10:52 PM on August 22, 2007


Mostly innocent. Except for this dude, who is a sketchball adopted-daughter or not. The artist's statement makes it clear that they were meant and posed to be a commentary on something beyond a typical father daughter relationship, and the photographer (okay, 'artist'... that's borderline) probably went too far in distorting them personally for his general idea.
posted by tmcw at 10:52 PM on August 22, 2007


"Likewise, as the girls grow up, will they remain innocent adoptees under the tutelage of their Western patriarchs?"

I'd like to point out that the key phrase is "as the girls grow up." They're getting a chance to grow up, and not say, die of neglect.

Patriarchial systems aren't just in the West.

If the photos had been taken at Disney World with everyone wearing mouse ears and fanny packs, it would have been so much less horrible and awkward. But the photographer has deliberately loaded the images with trappings and body language that evoke the Suzie Wong/child sex trade issue.

Mind you, the human trafficking problem is a deadly serious one, but I'm not sure that making us disgusted by families is the way to address this.

Stephenson totally got this right. I'm waiting for them to form a phyle and take over the world.
posted by ntartifex at 10:59 PM on August 22, 2007


PS. Not that Jasper Friendly Bear did anything bad in posting this (good discussion points), but right now, I'm wishing that MeFi has a "DO NOT WANT" tag along with "favorite this."
posted by ntartifex at 11:00 PM on August 22, 2007


posted by Phire Why must Chinese surnames be so common?

I have a very uncommon Chinese surname.


I wonder how much coaching the adoptee-fathers got; if they were asked to position their hands or if they were asked something like, "hold her, "comfortably" ...
posted by porpoise at 11:05 PM on August 22, 2007


I hardly think it warranted to ad hominem those in the "omgIfindthiscreepy" camp, but I may be biased.
posted by Phire at 11:08 PM on August 22, 2007


Sure, he could have gone with white women and their adopted Asian sons, but he had to go for the vague 'creep factor,' a cheap shot if there ever was one. Classy.
posted by Kadin2048

the photographer (okay, 'artist'... that's borderline) probably went too far in distorting them personally for his general idea.
posted by tmcw


Zhang. It's interesting how many posters think the photographer is male.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:08 PM on August 22, 2007


I have no idea how people can look at this or this or this and see perverts and pedos.

Honestly. It just looks like some Dads who love their daughters, getting a photo shot, and likely posing however the cameraman told them to.

I parsed the awkwardness in some of the photos as the Dads not being completely on-board with the idea of the shot that the photographer was putting together.

It's a lousy collection, IMO, but it made me smile. Daddy/Daughter shots always do.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 11:14 PM on August 22, 2007


I'll bet this one is giving a lot of people fits, but he's just holding her hand, which happens to be in her lap.

I thought that one was really sweet.

The creepiest thing is what's going on in the viewer's head, that's for certain.

Agreed.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 11:18 PM on August 22, 2007


There's another factor here as well.

Incest and child sexual abuse rarely happens where a father and daughter are related by blood. These incidents are outnumbered massively in those relationships where the daughter is either a stepdaughter, or adopted or whatever.

Now, I don't know this, but I wouldn't be surprised if those proportions increase according to genetic difference. So perhaps it isn't surprising that we see this, and think of this.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:19 PM on August 22, 2007


Motherfuck a O. Zhang.

This is bad art: it is manipulative and feeds prejudice and fear, while claiming innocence in its accompanying statement.

"What is the nature of..."

"I am curious about..."

"My interest in..."

This feigned attitude of exploration and ambiguity is belied quite unambiguously by the work itself.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 11:24 PM on August 22, 2007 [3 favorites]


From the photographer's statement:
I really needed to find an angle, because in the art world a good angle is an order of magnitude more important than actual talent. Plenty of people are talented. Not myself, of course--I'm lucky if I can get everyone smiling in the shot (BTW: anyone with good "cheese" techniques, please email me!). I'm not concerned, however, because I'm more interested in name recognition. The more stunts I pull, the more people will recognize who I am. The broader my renown, the greater the demand for my work, the larger the interest in my shows, and the fatter my wallet gets.

Thus is success born.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:30 PM on August 22, 2007 [5 favorites]


banality + provocation != art
posted by DaShiv at 11:32 PM on August 22, 2007 [4 favorites]


hey...know who we need to demonize? folks who're crossing racial boundaries, keeping the population explosion down, and offering family status t o non-traditional family members!!!!

YYYYYYYYYYYYYYAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

/fuck this guy very hard
posted by es_de_bah at 11:37 PM on August 22, 2007


posted by DaShiv banality + provocation != art

Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, and Gottfried Helnwein all respectfully disagree with you.
posted by fandango_matt at 11:41 PM on August 22, 2007


posted by PeterMcDermott Incest and child sexual abuse rarely happens where a father and daughter are related by blood.

Do you have a cite for this?
posted by fandango_matt at 11:43 PM on August 22, 2007


Creepiness is in the eye of the beholder.

Those of you who who were creeped out by Ms. Zhang's photos, please stay AWAY from my children!!!!
posted by strangeguitars at 11:44 PM on August 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


For me, some of the shots are clearly paternal, while others are somewhat creepy.

I wonder how many would get the pedo vibe if it was a white male/Asian boy?

It would depend on the poses, just as the shots here do.

Zhang has a nice face, by the way.
posted by bwg at 11:48 PM on August 22, 2007


i'm sorry...fuck this lady very hard.
posted by es_de_bah at 11:50 PM on August 22, 2007


Sure, he could have gone with white women and their adopted Asian sons

No. Chinese adoptions are almost always girls. (something like 95%) Sons are more valued in traditional Chinese families and the government currently only allows one child per couple. Heavy fines (or worse) are imposed on second pregnancies.

The current 5-year-plan extends until 2010 where this policy will be reviewed again, but it's been over 25 years so it isn't expected to change.

Also you people who are seeing creepiness really need to check yourself. Those are just dads and daughters.
posted by Bonzai at 11:51 PM on August 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


"Likewise, as the girls grow up, will they remain innocent adoptees under the tutelage of their Western patriarchs?"

Maybe it's the word choice, but White people can't do anything right, can they? Say nothing of an overpopulated, misogynistic context that trades unwanted daughters for hopes of raising more sons - but when someone halfway around the world actually opens their home, demanding nothing in return, we need to see it in terms of "Western patriarchs" and pedophilia?
posted by kid ichorous at 11:56 PM on August 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


hey...know who we need to demonize? folks who're crossing racial boundaries, keeping the population explosion down, and offering family status t o non-traditional family members!!!!

I agree with the sentiment of your post - adoption is commendable, and it's further commendable that parents are willing to cross cultural lines. But adopting daughters from China doesn't help suppress the population explosion - rather, it enables families to bypass the one-child policy.
posted by kid ichorous at 12:04 AM on August 23, 2007


This guy creeps me out, the rest just look posed. Man, I would not like to meet him.
posted by tehloki at 12:05 AM on August 23, 2007


They are just dads and daughters. But their affection has been manipulated into a provocation by the photographer.

I have a Chinese baby. She is a person, not an economic metaphor, a rhetorical device or an artefact of colonialism.
posted by Wolof at 12:05 AM on August 23, 2007 [10 favorites]


f_m: Pop and conceptual art often starts with the banal, but goes somewhere and doesn't end there.

Zhang's purported statement of intent implies a sensitive, nuanced exploration of an awkward cultural touchstone. Instead, the photos she proffers are either blandly (and astoundingly) inept photographically or crude and malicious hatchet jobs of her subjects (if the awkward poses/compositions were intentional). Either would be rather banal.

Don't believe me? Ask any self-respecting photojournalist to put together a series like this.
posted by DaShiv at 12:06 AM on August 23, 2007


posted by kid ichorous I agree with the sentiment of your post - adoption is commendable, and it's further commendable that parents are willing to cross cultural lines. But adopting daughters from China doesn't help suppress the population explosion - rather, it enables families to bypass the one-child policy.

Peculiar stance, there. Instead of adoption, what would you propose for these children?
posted by fandango_matt at 12:08 AM on August 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


DaShiv: I don't disagree with you. I think Zhang's work--specifically, this piece--is intended to appall, fascinate, and enrage, and in so doing is forcing the viewer to confront his or her ideas about pedophilia, adoption, love, fatherhood, and racial barriers, albeit in a somewhat clumsy and ham-fisted manner.

I do, however, disagree with your assertion that banality + provocation =! art. I'd submit banality that provokes is almost always art. With 85 comments in this thread, Zhang has successfully gotten us all talking about her photographs and the issues she's inelegantly forcing us to discuss.
posted by fandango_matt at 12:20 AM on August 23, 2007


Peculiar stance, there. Instead of adoption, what would you propose for these children?

In many cases, their parents can bite the bullet, join the 21st century, and raise a daughter instead of having a do-over and hoping for a boy. Faddish adoption of Chinese girls creates a market by which parents can sidestep the one-child policy until they "win" the genetic lottery with a son. Considering we're talking about a country with 1/6 the population of the world (and, even with the one-child policy, not expected to stabilize until 2050) I'd say that global overpopulation takes precedence over a cultural preference for male heirs.
posted by kid ichorous at 12:23 AM on August 23, 2007


MetaFilter is not good at art. OK, I'm not good at art, but MetaFilter in general is terrible at it.

If you look at Starry Night and can only wonder what sort of kinky things the people could doing in those rooms so late at night, you're the pervert. If you aren't judging visual arts largely on form, composition, and color, but instead are jumping right to (and solely to) any pervy storyline you can wring out of it, you might as well be watching Jerry Springer.

First of all, always ignore the manifesto. It doesn't matter what the artist intended. Usually, they have failed. Or they have brainwashed you into believing the art says what they hoped it would say. But all that matters is what the artist did. Go straight to the art.

I like some of Zhong's other pictures more than these. The Horizon collection is good. I like the contrasts of the children's gaudy clothes against the grass and sky. (Are the colors oversaturated or is it just the clothes?) The kids are big colorful blotches slapped right in the middle of the world.

The father-daughter set is more like a collection of vacation snaps or birthday pictures: parent and child against a cluttered background, the kid's flowery dress lost in the real flowers, dad wearing the wrong stuff for hanging about the garden. Nothing very interesting to me visually. If this was hanging in a gallery, I probably would walk through without stopping.

(Except for that last one. I bet the photographer almost caught the father with his hand up her dress. Oh, my God! Call the cops! Call the news!)
posted by pracowity at 12:24 AM on August 23, 2007


In many cases, their parents can bite the bullet, join the 21st century, and raise a daughter instead of having a do-over and hoping for a boy.

This is pretty much happening in the cities, btw. It takes a while for these attitudes to filter out to the back of beyond.
posted by Wolof at 12:27 AM on August 23, 2007 [2 favorites]


posted by kid ichorous In many cases, their parents can bite the bullet, join the 21st century, and raise a daughter instead of having a do-over and hoping for a boy. Faddish adoption of Chinese girls creates a market by which parents can sidestep the one-child policy until they "win" the genetic lottery with a son. Considering we're talking about a country with 1/6 the population of the world (and, even with the one-child policy, not expected to stabilize until 2050) I'd say that global overpopulation takes precedence over a cultural preference for male heirs.

In many cases, they can't. Your position is based on a number of assumptions, the first of which is the notion the children in question were all planned pregnancies. We have no way of knowing the reason(s) why the children were put up for adoption--indeed, many infants are left in public places so they'll be found by the authorities and put up for adoption, presumably because the parent(s), for whatever reason, cannot or do not want to raise a child. You simply can't expect someone to "bite the bullet and join the 21st century" and share your world-view of a 0% population-growth utopia when they're faced with the dilemma of an unwanted or unplanned pregancy, or the undesirable result thereof.
posted by fandango_matt at 12:41 AM on August 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


posted by kid ichorous Faddish adoption of Chinese girls creates a market by which parents can sidestep the one-child policy until they "win" the genetic lottery with a son.

Also, adoption of Chinese girls is not a fad. That infant Chinese girls are abandoned for whatever reason is a sad reality, but thankfully it's one with a happy outcome.

I love my adopted Chinese niece!
posted by fandango_matt at 12:45 AM on August 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


Faddish

Yeah, thanks for that little eructation.
posted by Wolof at 12:51 AM on August 23, 2007


Your position is based on a number of assumptions [...] We have no way of knowing the reason(s) why the children were put up for adoption

My position is based on numbers. You're talking about a population with a 1.18 male-female birth ratio because of sex-selective abortion (again, to avoid bearing girls). Given that 20% more male babies are born, you'd not expect to see 95+% (according to the INS) of adoptions being girls, unless their sex itself is the decisive factor.
posted by kid ichorous at 12:56 AM on August 23, 2007


Reading the first few comments, (I'm guilty, I often do this before the click-through...) I expected to have some gut-reaction, and most likely a negative one.

Instead, I found myself looking at a series of photos very similar to the ones lining my walls.

Living as I do, in Japan, and being part of a relatively large ex-pat community, I'm surrounded by Anglo men who have married Japanese women. Their children (especially when they are very young) generally look much more Japanese than Eurasian and the mothers seem to take the vast majority of the photos...end result: lots of pics of daddies with their daughters (and sons) who barely look related.

And yet, it is precisely the comfortable closeness which is visible in our photos, as well as these, that identifies them as family. Adopted or otherwise.
posted by squasha at 1:01 AM on August 23, 2007


I'd submit banality that provokes is almost always art. With 85 comments in this thread, Zhang has successfully gotten us all talking about her photographs and the issues she's inelegantly forcing us to discuss.

Were social relevance and the volume of viewer responses the best litmus tests of an artwork's quality, then Metafilter parodies and Terry Schiavo's death are two of the highest exemplars of 21st century art.

It's easy to provoke people into talking now. (Just look at the ridiculous dialogue that is American politics.) Good art keeps them talking centuries from now.

It's obviously intellectual suicide to define either art or non-art. Personally, her "ham-fistedness" (as you put it) with these photos is enough for this particular viewer to label them "failure" and move on. And I happen to subscribe to the (unpopular) view that failed art is not art. YMMV.

First of all, always ignore the manifesto. It doesn't matter what the artist intended.

It's a good way of telling when the artist is being disingenuous.
posted by DaShiv at 1:07 AM on August 23, 2007 [3 favorites]


Boys are preferred? Wow, big mystery. That's not the point. The point is the babies need parents, and thankfully we have a system in place to deal with this unfortunate reality. I don't quite understand your objection--if you're trying to suggest every single Chinese pregnancy should be planned and the sex of the child is irrelevant, that's about as realistic in expectations as trying to prevent teenage pregnancy by preaching the values of abstinence while refusing to distribute condoms and birth control.
posted by fandango_matt at 1:08 AM on August 23, 2007


Maybe I'm around my own kids and other dads and their kids too much, but I don't really see 'the creepy'.

Those of you who do, firstly, see 'creepy', I gotta ssume you don't have kids, and/or pictures of yourself with your kids, so that you can see how wierd you often end up looking: angry while the kid in your arms is trying to give you a kiss, distracted while your kid rides toward you on a bike all kinds of joy in his eyes, happy while your partner and kid are looking somewhere else oblivious of you.

I gotta say I think 'creepy' is in the eye of the beholder on this one, despite the big numbers who see it. (Cultural bias anyone?)

I look at the pictures and I see 'Americans.' Which I think is positive. As art they aren't really my bag, but I've seen worse.
posted by From Bklyn at 1:09 AM on August 23, 2007


(This comment was for kid ichorus)
posted by fandango_matt at 1:12 AM on August 23, 2007


It's a good way of telling when the artist is being disingenuous.

Maybe. If that matters. But a manifesto is a different piece in a different medium. Go to the primary art first. Decide whether you like it, why you like it, why you don't. Then, if you think the art is worth further bother, go see what the artist supposedly tried to do. In the end, the art on the wall will still be what you saw before you read the excuse in the program.
posted by pracowity at 1:25 AM on August 23, 2007


Also, adoption of Chinese girls is not a fad.
[...]
Yeah, thanks for that little eructation.


Wolof, I apologize, and it's uncomfortable to use the term faddish to characterize a generous act. However, in the US at least, the majority of foster children awaiting adoption are black, and this statistic is underrepresented in our interracial adoptions. That is, parents do show preferences for both the race and sex of adopted children, as I'm sure you know understand. Again, I apologize for the choice of words.

Boys are preferred? Wow, big mystery. That's not the point. The point is the babies need parents

And my point is that these babies already *have* parents, and that their adoptions do not overwhelmingly appear to be based on necessity, but on a preference for raising a son instead of a daughter under a one-child mandate. If adoption occurred for essentially random economic reasons, you would not see 95% female adoptions from a country with 20% more male births, period. This data doesn't indicate that boys are preferred, it suggests that a dilemma is being imposed upon parents by the one-child policy, and that they're answering it by ridding themselves of daughters, by family planning and adoption.

that's about as realistic in expectations as trying to prevent teenage pregnancy by preaching the values of abstinence while refusing to distribute condoms and birth control.

Low blow. I don't take such a paternalistic outlook towards anyone as to compare them with American teenagers. Expecting someone not to get rid of their daughter and do-over simply because she's (gasp!) a girl doesn't strike me as unreasonable.
posted by kid ichorous at 1:48 AM on August 23, 2007


Also, I'm not arguing that people stop adopting Chinese girls, if that's what they want to do. Returning to the root of this sidetrack, I was responding to es_de_bah's statement that these parents were, in addition to being generous, fighting global overpopulation. My argument was that adopting a girl from China does not exactly have that effect, since adoption is often used in this context to make room for another (male) child.
posted by kid ichorous at 2:12 AM on August 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


posted by kid ichorous the majority of foster children awaiting adoption are black, and this statistic is underrepresented in our interracial adoptions. That is, parents do show preferences for both the race and sex of adopted children

And again, you're ignoring several mitigating factors which do not support your position. People choose international adoption for a variety of reasons, chiefly because it's often shorter and easier than going through state adoption agencies, and to say white parents adopt asian girls because they're racist or hip is a cruel and racist assumption.

posted by kid ichorous And my point is that these babies already *have* parents, and that their adoptions do not overwhelmingly appear to be based on necessity, but on a preference for raising a son instead of a daughter under a one-child mandate. If adoption occurred for essentially random economic reasons, you would not see 95% female adoptions from a country with 20% more male births, period. This data doesn't indicate that boys are preferred, it suggests that a dilemma is being imposed upon parents by the one-child policy, and that they're answering it by ridding themselves of daughters, by family planning and adoption.

No shit, China's one-child policy is resulting in a huge surge of babies who need homes. More to the point: these children do not have parents--they've been abandoned, and that's why they need to be adopted. What do you suggest the families who cannot or do not wish to care for unplanned or unwanted children do with their newborns? Again, you're going to need to explain exactly why you're opposed to adoption since it's clearly the most prudent solution to the problem at hand. Obviously, the best solution would be China's repeal of the one-child policy, but since that doesn't appear to be happening anytime soon, your idealistic opposition to the best solution is misguided, at best. Again, I ask you: instead of adoption, what would you propose for these children?

posted by kid ichorous Low blow. I don't take such a paternalistic outlook towards anyone as to compare them with American teenagers. Expecting someone not to get rid of their daughter and do-over simply because she's (gasp!) a girl doesn't strike me as unreasonable.

I think not. It's called reality, my friend. Expecting people to behave rationally and civilly and wisely and humanely is not unreasonable. But if everyone did, we wouldn't need police officers, would we? You can wax idealistic all you want, but until China repeals its one-child policy, a lot of Chinese babies are going to need homes. Insisting parents take care of their unwanted newborns neatly ignores the question of what to do with the unwanted babies abandoned in public places, the ones whose parents quickly vanish into anonymity.

posted by kid ichorous My argument was that adopting a girl from China does not exactly have that effect, since adoption is often used in this context to make room for another (male) child.

And again, you don't know if that's the case for every Chinese girl. Certainly it's true for some, and the rest are probably put up for adoption for the same reasons mothers in this country put their children up for adoption.
posted by fandango_matt at 2:33 AM on August 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


Scratches head.

Tries to figure out what is supposed to be creepy about these pictures.

Fails utterly.

Seriously, what are you all *talking* about?
posted by kyrademon at 2:42 AM on August 23, 2007


I wouldn't be surprised to find out that none of these girls and men are in the same families and that the entire photo shoot was manufactured.

I would be totally surprised. Some of the little girls are totally showing the affection a little kid has for their parent, while the teenagers have the expected "omigod dad you are SO embarassing" air. The actual people look pretty familyish to me, although it is equally obvious the photographer has deliberately injected hint-o-creepiness. Hard to say what his motivation is exactly, but I wouldn't be so fast to discount "rorschach test."
posted by lastobelus at 2:51 AM on August 23, 2007


kid ichorus: I think you and I are talking about the same things--adoption good, one-child policy bad. I think the point at which we differ is sad reality of the situation--sure, we can expect and encourage people to behave wisely and humanely, and the ideal would be for each and every child to be born to parents who want and are able to care for them. Unfortunately China's one-child policy is preventing that and the unintended consequence is a lot of Chinese babies who need homes. Idealism is great, but at the end of the day those babies are sill going to need homes. The solution of "Well, the parents should care for them!" does nothing for the anonymously abandoned babies.
posted by fandango_matt at 2:56 AM on August 23, 2007


Interesting, how many people keep assuming the photographer is male.
posted by fandango_matt at 3:03 AM on August 23, 2007


OMG! That guy totally dresses up as a girl! CREEPY!!!
posted by From Bklyn at 3:33 AM on August 23, 2007


OK, now let's read a lot of creepy stuff into her personal life!

By the way: if you were dying to read stuff into the father-daughter pictures, you could also go the other way and talk about how some of these guys look like the kids own them like a rider owns a horse. Or this: am I imagining that they often look a lot like each other (here, here, here, etc.), either by selection or by imitating each other for years? In this one, I swear all three of them (even the dog) have the same smile.
posted by pracowity at 3:42 AM on August 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


fandango_matt: kid ichorus: I think you and I are talking about the same things--adoption good, one-child policy bad. I think the point at which we differ is sad reality of the situation--sure, we can expect and encourage people to behave wisely and humanely, and the ideal would be for each and every child to be born to parents who want and are able to care for them. Unfortunately China's one-child policy is preventing that and the unintended consequence is a lot of Chinese babies who need homes. Idealism is great, but at the end of the day those babies are sill going to need homes. The solution of "Well, the parents should care for them!" does nothing for the anonymously abandoned babies.

Matt, I've been working all night, so I don't think I can proceed much further with this argument right now. But thank you for attempting to find some common ground.

Let me just close for now by offering this - that China solving this problem for itself might result in positive revisions to both its one-child policy and to the sexist element in its culture.

As I see it, there are at least four sides to this issue - overpopulation, the government's one-child policy, a very serious and culturally-entrenched sexism (can you imagine such mass abandonment happening in the US or Europe?), and, last but not least, the abandoned children - all of which are at odds.

Sure, it would ideal for the last party that each and every abandoned child be taken to a wealthy home overseas - and I could really say the same of the children in Chicago's projects. But I'd argue that these first three stresses - population, laws, and culture - aren't necessarily going to resolve themselves if third parties continually step in to solve the fourth. This isn't exactly a refugee situation, and China is not a Sudan - this is a country with a booming economy, a literate and growing urban populace, and an extensive socialist framework.

It's not as if these girls do not ever find true homes in China, either - I've read that there is a small but growing number of rural households that will take in foster daughters. Perhaps the cultural stigmas against this can be eroded - perhaps the state, so meddlesome in forcibly "modernizing" every other aspect of life, could even help.

Of course, it is callous to talk about tradeoffs when children are being put into state orphanages. But without the first three sides of the equation balanced properly, and without China facing up to this problem itself, the problem of abandoned children will never go away, no matter how many are adopted. It will only grow.

posted by kid ichorous at 3:47 AM on August 23, 2007


thloki: This guy creeps me out
That's probably because of his smile.

Personally, I think that pedophilia happens both more often and less often than we think. If such a thing is possible. By which I mean we see it in totally natural and healthy familial affection between any man and his daughter or son, and we ignore it when there's an adult (male or female) who acts totally normal in public and saves their child abuse for the privacy of their own home.

Repeat it in your heads until you change how you react, people: kissing children is okay, hugging children is okay, touching them with love and affection is okay. Treating them like a sex object is NOT okay, but interacting with them without any physical touch and affection is also NOT okay (a childhood without any affection is not worse than a childhood with abuse, but it's not that much better).*

I think the problem is that America in particularly has sexualized all forms of physical affection. In Egypt you will see men walking around arm in arm, holding hands, walking close together, and kissing each other on the cheeks (rarely, but occasionally, on the lips). If they did any of these things in the States the automatic assumption would be that they are gay. It was very shaming and painful to have to stop holding hands with my twin brother as soon as we went into elementary school, because of the teasing we got. He was my closest friend and now we had to act like we didn't give a damn about each other or something.

The only members of society still allowed to show affection towards each other are girls and women.

This has a spillover effect, of course. Now that any need for physical affection is conflated with sexuality, a man might confuse his desire to just be physically close to someone with a desire to be sexual with that person. He won't know how to separate different kinds of physical affection and that might lead to more abuse. If the only hugs and kisses you know are the ones you use for sex, you're going to have a hard time giving the right kinds of hugs and kisses to your son or daughter.

* I don't mean just any children. Your children, or your relatives' children, or your friends' children, or children you look after regularly. Randomly hugging a child on the street is not cool
posted by Deathalicious at 4:00 AM on August 23, 2007 [7 favorites]


kid - fwiw pretty much every single family planning poster I recall seeing in rural China (and I've worked there a lot over the years) shows a happy couple with a daughter. Chinese authorities are trying to solve the problem. There's enormous problems with the system and its enforcement, and also issues with how adoption works, but ultimately in a country as populous as this, you don't need even a large percentage of country people to have backward attitudes to create quite a lot of unwanted girl children, sad to say.
There are plenty of willing foster families in China and a number of international NGOs are involved in programmes with the Ministry of Civil Affairs to encourage fostering and better institutional options.
posted by Abiezer at 4:14 AM on August 23, 2007


> carefully chosen to illicit our emotions

If that was a conscious play on words, fuller tips hat and steals it for later. Otherwise, best Freudian slip of the day.


> If the only hugs and kisses you know are the ones you use for sex, you're going to have a hard
> time giving the right kinds of hugs and kisses to your son or daughter.

Speaking of illiciting our emotions!
posted by jfuller at 4:24 AM on August 23, 2007


Wolof, I apologize

Accepted. We are not all Angelina Brangelina Ballerina right here, though. For example, I am an ugly fuck with a beautiful beautiful child.

Others can detail the extremely punishing trajectory adoptive parents have had to follow to get where they wanted to go — I'll give our own executive summary only. Letting go the several courses of IVF we undertook (at great expense) before we finally gave that stuff up, this took 2 years, the collection of 120 witnessed documents, $25000, several obligatory social work type attendance-mandatory thingbits o' crap and Air China.

It was totally worth it times ten.
posted by Wolof at 4:47 AM on August 23, 2007


I looked at the link prior to reading the thread, and the first thing I thought is "why is this photographer making these families look so fucking creepy?" Often the girls are in coy or flirtatious poses.

Come on. How can you not find this picture creepy? The shy, subdued child with barely a smile as the father grins to the camera, as they're all hidden by vegetation. It just screams "illicit rendezvous."

Grainy motel-type bedroom shot with clearly juvenile bedding? Really? Nothing seems off or weird to you about that photo?

I really feel the worst for the subjects. I am sure they had no idea that what they thought was a great chance to get photgraphed with their daughters was going to be exploited for shock value and a Statement.

I think as a culture, we all need to reaffirm the value of a loving father in the family and in society at large. Daddies fucking rock, and I love the shit out of mine. I just don't think this does anything for that, and I certainly don't think it's unusual or even unlikely for people to pick up on the intent of the photographer to make these portraits less about a loving relationship and more weirdly sexualized.

These poor dads, man. I feel so fucking bad for them. Keep on keepin' on, dads!
posted by mckenney at 5:30 AM on August 23, 2007 [4 favorites]


I'd bet good money that the "creepy" posing was demanded very explicitly by the photographer.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 5:31 AM on August 23, 2007


There is not a doubt in my mind that this photog didn't bet a mefite he could take a series of provocative sfw pics, post them after midnight and garner 100+ comments before 8am. So fess up. Who has to has to pick up the tab for tonight's open bar?
posted by notreally at 5:36 AM on August 23, 2007


I mostly feel bad for the dads and daughters. The photographer probably told them she was going to take a nice portrait, and then posed them and picked the most awkward-looking shots with the blank little-girl faces for the outrage factor. They thought they were getting a nice portrait; they come out looking like pedophiles. Gross.
posted by schroedinger at 5:42 AM on August 23, 2007 [2 favorites]


Wow. I can't believe how easily you people are manipulated. Obviously the photos are engineered to look "creepy" The photographer probably took a lot of shots and 'posed' the subjects, who allowed themselves to be photographed this way.

Lots of couples adopt Asian children, and if you took a picture of the father and a daughter, posed them like this, and then took a picture, this is what you would get.

Also, the photographer turned the saturation way up, making the pictures look extra gaudy (and awful on this LCD)
posted by delmoi at 6:20 AM on August 23, 2007


I read the comments first, and I was expecting them to be a lot more creepy. Apart from a few awkward or forced shots, most are quite sweet.

Nonetheless, fuck O. Zhang for what he/she was trying to do to these people.
posted by teem at 6:35 AM on August 23, 2007


MetaFilter is not good at art.

I just wanted to isolate that, hold it up to the light, turn it around and squint at it a bit.

Nope, still bullshit.

Seriously, pracowity, this kind of conversation rocks. People are sharing and disagreeing, calmly and politely, some more informed than others but almost all making decent points. What's "not good" about that?
posted by mediareport at 6:37 AM on August 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'd really like to know what the fathers think of this photo set.
posted by mediareport at 6:47 AM on August 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


When I see a dog and a man: I think woof!
When I see a dog and woman: I think woof!
When I see a black man with a white woman: I think woof!
When I see a white man with a black women: I think woof!
When I see Michael Vick with a dog: I get angry!
posted by doctorschlock at 6:50 AM on August 23, 2007


Wow. I can't believe how easily you people are manipulated. Obviously the photos are engineered to look 'creepy' The photographer probably took a lot of shots and 'posed' the subjects, who allowed themselves to be photographed this way.

What's your point? Almost (but not quite all) everyone who is saying "creepy" is also saying that the photographer intended this with deliberate posing and whatnot. So if this is your definition of "easily manipulated", then look to yourself, too.

And those who don't see the "creepy" in this are missing what's obviously been placed in the creation of the photographs. People aren't making this up, pulling it entirely from their subconscious. The photographer is doing everything she can to make the fathers and daughters not appear to be related to each other, yet there's intimate affection being portrayed. If you don't see that, you're blind.

And I'm with DaShiv on this, completely. The artist started with a decent idea—there's some interesting territory to be explored by family photographs with adopted, Asian, children—but the execution of this is so ham-handed, it's laughable. It's worse than laughable, because the poor subjects don't even have the option to retreating into "at least we got a decent portrait" out of this denial. If the portraits were very good, if the artist's idea of exploring this supposed form of colonialism were realized much more subtly, if it truly were possible that most people could see these as genuine portraits...then it would have been successful, and decent, art. But none of that is true, so it's just hack work.

What's 'not good' about that?

From the comment, that we don't share his interpretation. And from the comment, I suspect that it's pracowity who's not very good at art. Naturally, he'd think it's all the rest of us, not unlike the hard-of-hearing woman in Being John Malkovich who is sure everyone else has a speech impediment.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 6:55 AM on August 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


You know, I'm gonna tend to agree... Metafilter really isn't too good with art. But what gets me is that sometimes it's even worse with cultural differences. "Why don't they just wise up & join the 21st century?" comments sound ridiculous when they're regarding social mores that have developed over centuries. That's like coming into America in 1950 and saying "Why don't people wise up and let black people sit wherever they want to?" Sometimes it's not even clear to the people that something is wrong. Cultures do not change overnight. It takes time and a lot of concerted effort to get a large group of people to believe something new after they've been taught to believe something else. Unfortunately, this especially is true with cultures who do not value women, since many times men are in control & in turn the problem isn't seen as a problem. But with time sometimes even the most ingrained things can change. Sometimes it just take a few hundred years...
posted by miss lynnster at 7:15 AM on August 23, 2007


Metafilter really isn't too good with art.

Funny, from the years I've been here, I'd say it's the subject Mefi does best. There've been some great threads about art and its different interpretations here, almost all of them emotional but generally polite.
posted by mediareport at 7:20 AM on August 23, 2007


I'd like to know how many of these men are married or in a relationship, and why the partner was excluded.

And

A lot of adoption agencies require you to be partnered, I think it varies from country to country and I can't speak to China's policies on allowing unpartnered men to adopt

I can. All foreign adoptions from China are arranged through the China Central Adoption Agency, in Beijing. The CCAA chooses which eligible children are given to which foreign couple. Each couple goes through an extensive approval procedure that includes a criminal background check and several visits with a licensed social worker. A package containing the background check, the social worker's report, the adopting couple's financial records, autobiographical statements, and photographs, and other material is sent to the CCAA before they approve the couple for adoption. You'll notice that I keep saying 'couple' - that's because the CCAA will not approve single-parent adoptions. No Humbert Humberts need apply. At least one of the adoptive parents must go to China to get the child.

Children (the vast majority are girls) approved for foreign adoption do not have identifiable parents. Before a child is approved, the authorities make a systematic search for any relatives. Only if none are found is the child eligible for foreign adoption. It is exceedingly rare, possibly unheard of, for adoptive parents to know anything about the child before beginning the process. This may not be true if both adoptive parents are Chinese citizens; it is true if either parent is not.

Children who are not adopted grow up in orphanages. Foreigners adopting Chinese girls do not enable persons attempting to circumvent the one-child rule. The vast majority of these children are the result of unplanned pregnancies, just as in the U.S. or other places.

I was tempted to link to a photo of my daughter with me, but there appear to be a bunch of, unusual people commenting in this thread, so I won't.

I am not one of the fathers pictured, but if I were, I would be disturbed to be in that group, even if my own picture were completely wholesome.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:27 AM on August 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


There've been some great threads about art and its different interpretations here, almost all of them emotional but generally polite.

Polite does not mean good, not if almost all of them were largely actually about something other than art. (I'm not going to go back and count threads and comments to see if that's accurate -- I'm just telling you what it seems like to me. Maybe I'm wrong and it's really "many" instead of "almost all"? Who knows. It's tedious enough that it feels like almost all.)

People get emotional about the non-art aspects of art stories. This thread is all about whether these guys were intentionally portrayed as fiddlers without much discussing, for example, whether she did a good job of it, how she did it, etc., and then people go off on tangents about Chinese adoption and so on.

If you linked to Rubens nudes, people here would argue about women and perceived obesity through the ages (and jonmc would swear he loves fat chicks of all ages) but not about art.

If you link to abstract art, people can't argue about the thing it represents, so they would argue tired arguments about whether or not art like this can be good art or even art at all, and whether their kids could have done it, without concentrating on whether and why it is a pleasure to view the pieces linked in the thread.

Big art thefts or big art sales interest people -- money, not art. Artist and model lives interest people -- biography, not art. "Issues" interest people. People have a hard time looking at pieces of art as anything other than steps to help them up on to their hobby horses.

And maybe that's one of mine. Anyway, it's time to go home -- I'll ride off into the sunset.
posted by pracowity at 8:31 AM on August 23, 2007


I've clearly been reading Strobist too much lately. I looked at these, and all I could think was, "God Damn. She didn't even try to light these pieces of crap."
posted by god hates math at 8:35 AM on August 23, 2007


These photographs are cruel to the families. It's wrong to take fathers and daughters and put them in poses with their children that suggest sexual abuse. Full credit to the photographer for effectively making an artistic statement, I just think the statement is plain mean.
posted by Nelson at 8:36 AM on August 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


and then people go off on tangents about Chinese adoption and so on.

Since "Chinese adoption" is central to the subject of the photos, you may be mistaken about it being a tangent.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:45 AM on August 23, 2007


I was wondering how many of these girls are Jewish? “Most of my Chinese friends are Jewish.”
posted by Martin E. at 10:06 AM on August 23, 2007


The first thing I noticed in the images, was that in many cases, the smiles were the same, and it was a good thing to see that. It implies admiration, shared happiness, and bonding. Some of the images, don't look that way, that is where the creepy came in. I am both a parent of daughters, and a photographer. Once children reach puberty, girls generally prefer a hands off policy as they grapple with forming their separate identities.
posted by Oyéah at 10:18 AM on August 23, 2007


I'd really like to know what the fathers think of this photo set.
I bet they see it as totally slanted.
posted by racist dunk-tank clown at 10:34 AM on August 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


Just to say this, didn't find any of the pictures creepy as such. I'm sure it's a cultural thing; perhaps I'm more used to seeing photos such as these than many of you are. Singapore's ex-pat community is full of mixed-race families; it's one of those things you begin to accept absent-mindedly.

But I did find it irritating to see all the girls dressed in traditional Chinese attire; it's almost as if the photographer wanted to impose Chinese culture, as it were, on the kids, while it should have been their right to choose. It is that exploration of a civilizational dynamic (to paraphrase the artist's words) that bothers me more; just as you can't be _racially_ European, Latin American, African or Indian, you can't be racially Chinese.
posted by the cydonian at 10:38 AM on August 23, 2007


I wish I got to this thread sooner. I think this is a tremendous exhibit.

ven the oversaturation contributes to our heightened sense of compelled value judgment, by its signal of idealism, vibrance, and excitement. I am impressed with the ability of these photos to elicit such fantastical ponderances from me. As I looked, I mused "Death at Birth > Life of Molestation" (of course, I don't really have any such opinion, but I think these image-correspondent "realities" are exactly what we are supposed to grapple with upon encountering these photos)

Cruel to the people in them? How? They likely know better than we the travails of mixed-race family life, and the fraught and ambiguous values constantly in play when age, race and sex are all mixed by our hegemony's standards.

Mefites: You're a great group to look at art with. This thread's conversation is certainly what I expect out of a smart classroom or cross-section of gallery patrons.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 10:39 AM on August 23, 2007


They look like standard posed images of fathers and daughters to me documenting a relatively recent trend of adoption and very lightly pointing to possible implications.

My parents have pictures, get this, of me with just one of them too and, get this, they have a hand on me. There is even a picture of me naked in the bathroom heading for the bath.
posted by juiceCake at 10:51 AM on August 23, 2007


I'd really like to know what the fathers think of this photo set.

Speaking as the father of a 2 1/2 year old daughter, I didn't find anything particularly creepy about these pics; in fact I thought some of them were kind of sweet. I thought my pedophile equivalent of gaydar (pedar?) had gotten more sensitive since I became a parent, but I guess I am still relatively immune to seeing predators behind every bush. Say what you will about the photographer's pictures (and I agree with the earlier comment that she is a little heavy-handed with the saturation) they are a good deal better than her writing.

As far as the sex ratio of chinese adoptions, I know at least one couple that adopted a chinese boy.

As for the regulations about adopting in china, it sounds like this was actually pretty accurate.
posted by TedW at 11:11 AM on August 23, 2007


As an asian person, my first impressions were to be creeped out. The images quickly reminded me of Westerners who go abroad to pay for child prostitutes in SE Asia but after reading the artists statement it seems much clearer as to what her intentions were. It's not a comment on post-colonialism but rather a look at the future of China and its relationship to the west.

However the fact that the images look like bad Sears family portraits leaves me wondering about its effectiveness.
posted by cazoo at 11:14 AM on August 23, 2007


Polite does not mean good, not if almost all of them were largely actually about something other than art.

I think you have a wholly wrongheaded idea of what a discussion about art should look like. Art is about
sex,
war,
politics,
religion,
society,
technology,
money,
philosophy,
ethics,
life,
death,
revolution,
poetry,
love,
hate,
itself...

Why can't we talk about these things in its context?
posted by nasreddin at 11:34 AM on August 23, 2007 [2 favorites]


The cheong sam dresses added to the creepiness for me, too. I have seen a lot of American adoptive families buy those outfits for their daughters, mostly to wear at the annual reunions held by the adoption agency we used. People in China don't wear them much any more.

I just went and looked at the website of the orphanage our daughter lived in, which has a few pictures of girls with their adoptive fathers. None of those photos is creepy. Zhang had to be trying for that effect. Whatever she says her motives were, I think they're something else.

As for the regulations about adopting in china, it sounds like this was actually pretty accurate.
posted by TedW

Not really. In fact, not at all.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 11:38 AM on August 23, 2007


No strong opinion here one way or the other - I just wanted to point out that this thread has been a fascinating read and a hearty thanks to everyone who's contributed to it.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 11:39 AM on August 23, 2007


pracowity I know you have left this one horse town now, but maybe you can catch this manana.

I disagree that mefi is not a good place for art, or that we handle the discussion badly. That is like saying people are bad at art.

People get emotional about the non-art aspects of art stories.

Art stories include academic, deconstructional, functional, creative, subtractive, metaphorical, investive, social... and a thousand others.

To hold one aspect of art up as somehow more worthy of discussion, because you have the jargon, the education or some other form of credibility to do so is pretentious and all that is wrong with art.
posted by Samuel Farrow at 12:04 PM on August 23, 2007


However the fact that the images look like bad Sears family portraits leaves me wondering about its effectiveness.

The issue is that anyone with any level of photographic training can easily see that the photos were made with deliberately awkward and highly suggestive outfits, settings, poses, and compositions (or else the photos demonstrate an egregious lack of photographic skill on her part if this were unintentional). Thus, this skewering of her subjects completely undermines her seemingly-benign, standard-issue Artspeak statement of intent.

pracowity: the nitty gritty of how this was accomplished "artistically" (photographically in this case) has already been pointed out upthread; if you're seeing that we're discussing the issues and not the art itself, you're just not looking closely enough. I'm sure if you ask for more details, other photographers would have lots to offer about how portraits are usually done vs. how she's chosen to depict her subjects. If I might add another photographic observation, the garish oversaturation of colors also exaggerates and caricatures the differences between the father/daughter skin tones.

As EB said, this is a hack job.
posted by DaShiv at 12:09 PM on August 23, 2007




If the portraits were very good, if the artist's idea of exploring this supposed form of colonialism were realized much more subtly, if it truly were possible that most people could see these as genuine portraits...then it would have been successful, and decent, art.

Interesting. I think the apparent clumsiness is part and parcel. Why don't you agree?
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 12:27 PM on August 23, 2007


EB: know what? strike "clumsiness" and add "destructiveness".
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 12:30 PM on August 23, 2007


Here's another reaction:
As an Asian adoptee daughter, I find it repelling. I can’t imagine having a photo with my adoptive father in this way. What does it say about power and patriarchy? About feminization/fetishization? Contrast the Daddy and I series with Horizon, also featuring Chinese children.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:31 PM on August 23, 2007


For comparison;

Pictures of (Mostly) white men and their white daughters.

Oh my god, creepy!

Oh my god, his hand is like totally on her crotch!

I guess my point is that the reactions in this thread seem to me to be because the majority of people here at MeFi are bringing their pre-conceived notions of what it means for a white guy to adopt a Chinese daughter to their perceptions of the photos in the original FPP. Also, I think this was ever so slightly influenced by the way the FPP was written, especially the title ('Daddy').

I could probably make my point more eloquently (or coherently) but it is early and I have not yet had any caffeine.
posted by Effigy2000 at 1:16 PM on August 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


Can I just say that I have a big weak spot for Loving Daddies In Action? (yadda yadda didn't have one etc.) This pic got me teary!!

So I see this exhibit as really sketchy talentwise and button-pushy politicswise, but ultimately sweet as can be. That's my 8-year old self winning over my 18 year old self, right there. Yay!
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 1:26 PM on August 23, 2007


Effigy, "Daddy and I" is the artist's title, not the poster's.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:27 PM on August 23, 2007


Also, none of the photos you linked to have any of the creepiness of Zhang's. And his hand is nowhere near her crotch, unless she has very strange anatomy.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:29 PM on August 23, 2007


I have a daughter, now a young woman. I see nothing wrong with these photos.

Anyone who does see something wrong with these photos should look into the concept of "naive realism".

Thanks, fellas, for giving these girls a loving home, a chance, a father's deep affection, and the sense that they are protected in this world. Thanks, too, for bringing them up as strong young women, realizing that strong women don't have to wear combat boots to project strength.
posted by MetaMan at 1:36 PM on August 23, 2007


Kirth Gerson: "Effigy, "Daddy and I" is the artist's title, not the poster's."

A fair point, and I stand corrected. Caffeine is beginning to kick in now.

Kirth Gerson: "Also, none of the photos you linked to have any of the creepiness of Zhang's."

Which is sort of my point. None of the photos I linked to are creepy at all and I suspect most people in this thread who found the original photos creepy would agree. But why? Is it truly because Zhang's photo's are creepy? Or is it simply because there's no difference between the ethnicity of the father and daughter in the Flickr photos?
posted by Effigy2000 at 1:38 PM on August 23, 2007


I think it's because Zhang's photos are creepy.
posted by delmoi at 2:03 PM on August 23, 2007


Okay Effigy2000, I'll bite. It's hard to find comparable ages/poses from that list you generated, but let's see here:

Zhang vs Flickr: dad/daughter on bed.

Pose: ZOMG, Flickr photo has one of Dad's hands on the Daughter's upper buttocks and the other right up against the underside of her crotch! But look at the context given for the touching -- cradling her in a very paternal way with his legs in a natural repose -- whereas Zhang's photo has Dad's legs splayed apart for no good reason and Daughter plopped right between them. Blatantly suggestive.
Expression: Why did the Flickr photographer pick that expression to shoot? Why did Zhang pick those uncomfortable expressions? Look at the enormous difference.
Lighting: Zhang's harsh, direct flash gives her photo a distinctly voyeuristic quality (think paparazzi), whereas the Flickr photo's lighting looks entirely natural. Huge difference in mood: Zhang's Dad/Daughter look caught doing something illicit.
Colors: Even if the Flickr had been in color, would its colors have the suggestive contrast between the deep, robust amber and the distinctly childish bright dots on the bedding (echoed by Daughter's dress)? Why did Zhang boost the saturation to play up that distinction?
Composition: Zhang places her subject entirely in the bottom half, whereas the Flickr photographer's subjects are cropped tightly and intimately. Any wonder why Zhang's photo looks "weird", "awkward", "uncomfortable", etc? Especially given the formality of the two lights on the upper corners of the photo drawing attention to the vast space above their heads (and ruining any intimacy in the photo).

Zhang vs Flickr: dad/daughter outdoors with foliage.

Pose: ZOMG, Flickr Dad's hands are ALL OVER the daughter! But again look at the context: she's sitting on his knee and he's protectively keeping her balance. It's natural. But now, why is it that Zhang's Dad/Daughter are touching in only two unnatural places: his hand on her buttocks from behind (unnecessarily), and her arm propped strangely on his thigh? What happened during the three seconds before Flickr photographer snapped the photo, and during the three seconds before Zhang snapped hers? Imagine how differently each photographer interacted with their subjects in those preceding three seconds, and it's easy to see what Zhang and Flickr photographer were each aiming for.
Expression: Two stiff and completely artificial "camera smiles" versus Flickr Daughter's natural smile and Flickr Dad's kiss. Again, why did each photographer choose those expressions to represent the relationship between Dad/Daughter? The differences are not subtle.
Lighting: Both photos were taken under shade and fill flash was used. Again, note the harsh voyeuristic directness of Zhang's flash and the muted natural quality of Flickr photo's fill flash. Incompetent flash use or purposely harshening and stiffening an already awkward set of smiles and poses? You decide.
Colors: Look at how Zhang's huge color saturation boost plays up the ruddiness of her photo's Dad against the Oriental tan of his daughter, while the skin tones on the Flickr photo are neutral and natural. Coincidence? How would that affect viewer reception?
Composition: Both Daughters are wearing dresses. But why is Zhang purposely choosing a low vantage point up Daughter's dress (look at how much of Daughter's thigh she exposes!) while Flickr photographer uses an ordinary subject's eye-level view? (Contrast against Daughter's leg positioning in the Flickr photo.) You don't think Zhang was trying to create a certain effect by composing using that vantage point? And what's with those statues in the background, which are distracting at best and who-knows-what at worst?

Anyone can see from these comparisons how Zhang's photos are simply bad from a purely photographic standpoint, even against amateurs on Flickr. That to me is already inexcusable coming from an "artist" of the medium. However, since all photos manipulate their viewers: using one's photographic eye to look closely at how Zhang's photos are doing so makes it obvious how dishonest and malicious her photos are to her subjects. Her photos aren't Rorschach tests: they're loaded and designed to evoke the type of reactions in this thread (i.e. "this is creepy"). It's shoddy, banal photography that abuses its subjects for the sake of promoting Zhang's "edgy vision" or whatever claptrap will further her career and reputation. And it's entirely not art at all in my book.
posted by DaShiv at 3:09 PM on August 23, 2007 [16 favorites]


eponysterical?
posted by rush at 3:27 PM on August 23, 2007


I (heart) DaShiv. In a totally non-Zhang-creepified way.
posted by Justinian at 3:52 PM on August 23, 2007


I did get a creepy vibe from the photos, not because I think that there is anything inherently creepy about the relationships portrayed but because it's obvious that the photographer was doing everything she could to elicit that reaction from viewers. It pisses me off, frankly, because I feel so terrible for the fathers and daughters who took part in the shoot. I can't imagine that they would have participated if they knew this would be the outcome.

It makes me angry that she did this. Which I suppose is exactly what she wanted. So I guess she succeeded. I still think she's a douche.
posted by LeeJay at 4:49 PM on August 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


Effigy, I can't speak for anyone else, but it's definitely not the ethnicities that's creepy for me. We know several families with white fathers and Chinese daughters. Photos of them are not creepy. Zhang did that on purpose. I think LeeJay is right about her.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:24 PM on August 23, 2007


Thank you for the detailed reading, DaShiv. I was too lazy to do it, but I agree with all the things you point out.

Where I disagree is that Zhang's work is bad technique. I think it's quite well executed; look how many people here on MeFi had a "eww, creepy" reaction. Look how much discussion the series has engendered. Her art provoked, and that required some skill in execution.

I just wish she had something less hateful to say than "white daddies have sexually perverse relationships with their adopted Chinese daughters". Because that's terribly unfair and awful to imply. I wonder how the fathers in these photographs feel and how those families feel seeing their young daughters sexualized in these images.
posted by Nelson at 5:28 PM on August 23, 2007


Also, I meant to say these images remind me very strongly of the Calvin Klein child porn advertising campaign that was pulled very quickly after protest. Enough to be derivative. I don't mean the innocent-but-eyebrow-raising images of little kids in underwear jumping on the bed, but the sexy teenagers posing in a trailer with cheap wood panelling. Examples of both kinds of images are in this link
posted by Nelson at 5:32 PM on August 23, 2007


I think DaShiv nailed it.

The people who are claiming that these photos are neutral are making the assumption that they are candid shots by an untrained photographer.

That's not the case, so issues of viewing angle, framing, lighting, choice of pose, etc, that you would over look if these were taken by their Aunt Betty or something like that should be assumed to be intentional.

The artist was clearly up to mischief with these photos.
posted by empath at 5:35 PM on August 23, 2007


To add something else to the pile-on, my gut reaction to Zhang's CV is that it fits the profile of the talent-sparse hacks floating around the Beijing art scene trying to be something. All her projects could be pastiches of the bollocks churned out by the many deeply uninsightful mediocre-but-desperate-wannabes of her generation and background.
That includes the earlier work where she shoots the village girls, who she manages to make look miserable. I bet they were back to giggling and playing the minute she pissed off.
That she got to London and then New York only adds to that impression really.
posted by Abiezer at 5:43 PM on August 23, 2007


but the sexy teenagers posing in a trailer with cheap wood panelling. Examples of both kinds of images are in this link

Jeez, after the likes of this thread, Metafilter is going to be churning around in an FBI database somewhere.

But just to address the aside about sexy content in advertising directed towards teenagers: when I was fourteen, I thought about only two things continually, and one was sex. My life was an unbroken meditation on the endocrine system. And I expect I was not alone in this.

Now, given that this subject matter is already writhing in the adolescent mind, and that advertising is already driven by just such impulses, what's a more appropriate image for a teenager to direct their sexual interests towards - an image of a 27 year old celebrity model? Or an image of someone their own age?
posted by kid ichorous at 5:58 PM on August 23, 2007


I just wish she had something less hateful to say than "white daddies have sexually perverse relationships with their adopted Chinese daughters".

This is ludicrous. Even the most deliberate positioning of subjects to highlight their sexuality in order to create dialogue about their mainstream sexualization is not hate. This thread is proof that, however artfully composed these photos are or aren't, they serve the purpose of art.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 6:04 PM on August 23, 2007


(not "good" portraiture, as described by DaShiv, which is a totally specific subgenre of art)
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 6:08 PM on August 23, 2007


The purpose of art is to repulse. Who knew?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:17 PM on August 23, 2007


It would be interesting to have a duplicate set of these same photographs made, only with the girls' faces photoshopped to match the men's ethnicity. I really do wonder if a random community weblog looking at that set of photos would have the same "squick" factor or not, and whether that was the artist's intent.
posted by yhbc at 7:21 PM on August 23, 2007


Maybe a little more explanation on my last comment - is the uneasiness so many of us feel related to the fact that none of these pairs of people really look like father and daughter? If the girl in each picture really looked like the biological daughter of the man she was with, would the same uneasiness even be present?
posted by yhbc at 7:23 PM on August 23, 2007


ding ding ding

yhbc, you've won a Critical Studies BA!
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 7:31 PM on August 23, 2007


Okay, now that I've read more of the thread, I see dashiv pretty much made that point already. Thanks for the degree.
posted by yhbc at 7:40 PM on August 23, 2007


Without knowing the "true" story behind the pictures, what the fathers and daughters were told about the intent, what comes across is what so many have already made clear; a disingenuous written artist statement that purposefully omits the provocative connection between white fathers with adopted Chinese daughters and pedophilia that Zhang's photographs clearly insinuate.

The gap between stated intent and end result makes one wonder if these serious and intellectual words were the "cover story" Zhang used to seduce/convice the parents to work with her on this series. If not, what was? The father's look so bad in these depictions, a viewer can't help but feel that they wouldn't have "signed on" to the project had they known Zhang's full vision for the project.

Who knows? Maybe Zhang did share more of her intent with her subjects. And as some of the fathers have undoubtedly been victim to prejudices of this nature from strangers, perhaps they knowingly agreed to be in the series in the artistic spirit in which it may have been conceived.

But as there are daughters in the photo too, daughters too young in most cases to grasp these nuances, it seems difficult to believe that the father would have knowingly enacted these suggestive tableauxs, and one suspects a very egregious betrayal of trust took place between artist and subjects.

I want my art and artists to be pure and honest and authentic (O.K. virginal) and the seemingly ruthless willingness by Zhang to betray her subjects in this fashion seems both shameless and cowardly. But there is no doubt that many serious artists (and writers too) would be found guilty of similar charges.

Andy Warhol. Diane Arbus. Truman Capote.

Perhaps what makes the series worthy of all the chit chat is that not only is her work a betrayal of the subjects, but by adding an "artist statement" she betrays us as well.

Artist Robert Irwin believes that art is not what hangs on the wall in a gallery, it's what happens in our minds when we look at the things hanging on the wall in the gallery.

Reading this thread, and trying to work through my own thoughts about the work and people's reactions to it, I can't help but think how right he is.
posted by extrabox at 10:07 PM on August 23, 2007


If the girl in each picture really looked like the biological daughter of the man she was with, would the same uneasiness even be present?

If you read all the comments, you'll see statements by at least one adopted Asian woman, at least one adoptive father of an Asian girl, and at least one accomplished photographer. All of us are saying that it's not that the daughters are Asian and the fathers Western; it's the way the pictures are posed and photographed. You don't need to give the 'artist' the benefit of the doubt. It would have been trivially easy to take those pictures without the salacious overtones; in fact, Zhang had to go out of her way to make sure those overtones were present.

It may be art. My opinion is that art that betrays innocents, with the purpose of making people angry or disgusted, is not worthwhile.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:10 AM on August 24, 2007



I want my art and artists to be pure and honest and authentic (O.K. virginal) and the seemingly ruthless willingness by Zhang to betray her subjects in this fashion seems both shameless and cowardly. But there is no doubt that many serious artists (and writers too) would be found guilty of similar charges.

-
It may be art. My opinion is that art that betrays innocents, with the purpose of making people angry or disgusted, is not worthwhile.

What a weird thing to say. Is Thomas Kinkade the apogee of Worthwhile Art, then?
posted by nasreddin at 7:55 AM on August 24, 2007


News flash: There are more than two possibilities.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:25 AM on August 24, 2007


I am the photographer O Zhang. I have read some of the comments on my art work. The parents and their adopted children have a lot of love to each other. 95% of the poses in the photos are natural from the models. But I am not trying to direct what you want to believe.

Nowadays, people are very occupied with fears, bad news, quick judgements......On the other hand, people are trying to interpret visual images into texts as if the photo can really be read in a literal sense. But we don't read images as we might read words on a page...

Also, please be aware that when Chinese viewers look at the Daddy & I photos, 95% of them are happy and told me they are glad to see those sweet families in America. So why the same images can get different reaction in different countries?

the text below is from a review in Guardian (UK):

O Zhang
With her series of family portraits Daddy and I, Chinese photographer O Zhang subverts our stereotyped expectations. The photographs depict fathers with their adopted daughters; challenging our initial sexual preconceptions of the images. These "studio-style" portraits, shot in idyllic outdoor environments, depict modern multicultural family units in a prejudicial society.


posted by more_blue_sky at 11:12 AM on August 24, 2007 [13 favorites]


Wow! Welcome, Ms. Zhang. I'm glad our thread won your participation.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:19 AM on August 24, 2007


These "studio-style" portraits, shot in idyllic outdoor environments, depict modern multicultural family units in a prejudicial society.

Except that they don't. They depict a fraction - no more than two-thirds - of each family unit. Are you saying you had no intention of provoking "sexual preconceptions?"

As I have said, I would be disturbed if a photo of me with my adopted daughter were to appear in your collection. How do those fathers feel about it?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 11:29 AM on August 24, 2007


Thanks for replying. I don't particularly have a strong opinion one way or another, but since you're here, can you at least respond to to some of the specific criticisms of your choices of pose, angles and lighting?

Also, what do the actual subjects of the pieces feel about them?
posted by empath at 11:29 AM on August 24, 2007


Also, please be aware that when Chinese viewers look at the Daddy & I photos, 95% of them are happy and told me they are glad to see those sweet families in America. So why the same images can get different reaction in different countries?

I wondered about this, and was thinking the pictures might only look "sick" to us due to weird cultural issues, and that they might not seem strange to Chinese people at all.
posted by delmoi at 11:39 AM on August 24, 2007


I realize I'm very late to this thread, but I must say this: Men should never wear short pants.
posted by The World Famous at 11:51 AM on August 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


O Zhang, what was your reason for excluding the mothers from the photographs? What kinds of direction dod you give your subjects as they posed? Because it certainly seems like you set those poor fathers up to look creepy.
posted by LarryC at 12:14 PM on August 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


more_blue_sky writes "95% of the poses in the photos are natural from the models."
posted by PugAchev at 12:26 PM on August 24, 2007


...they might not seem strange to Chinese people at all.

I will ask my wife to look at them tonight. She's one of those Chinese people. I promise I won't make any prejudicial remarks to her before she does, and that I will come back here to tell you what she says.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:27 PM on August 24, 2007




O Zhang, what was your reason for excluding the mothers from the photographs? What kinds of direction dod you give your subjects as they posed? Because it certainly seems like you set those poor fathers up to look creepy.


you're kidding, right? did you read to the end of his post?

The photographs depict fathers with their adopted daughters; challenging our initial sexual preconceptions of the images. These "studio-style" portraits, shot in idyllic outdoor environments, depict modern multicultural family units in a prejudicial society.

great commentary on cultural attitudes and perceptions. any child who's grown up 'different' from a parent -- either due to adoption or mixed-race heritage -- can appreciate the way these photos set out to tweak noses.
posted by fishfucker at 12:43 PM on August 24, 2007


you're kidding, right? did you read to the end of his post?

Did you read the part where O Zhang is a woman?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:51 PM on August 24, 2007 [2 favorites]


woman or not, the photos are more banal than creepy -- it's not about the photographer's gender, they're just not that good.
posted by matteo at 1:15 PM on August 24, 2007


I just found it ironic that the reading-comprehension expert missed that small detail, among others.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:25 PM on August 24, 2007


Dear Ms. Zhang:

Welcome to Metafilter.

As you've noted, photographs can't be read the way one reads "words on a page." But photography has its own language, and it's perfectly fair to use words to describe how we read and interpret that language.

A Chinese audience may be ignorant of the cultural cues visually laced throughout Daddy and I, but they are obvious to most in the Western audience. I draw particular attention to some of the responses from White fathers and Asian daughters voiced in this thread. For instance:
As an Asian adoptee daughter, I find it repelling. I can’t imagine having a photo with my adoptive father in this way.

I am not one of the fathers pictured, but if I were, I would be disturbed to be in that group, even if my own picture were completely wholesome.
Did your photos draw these responses from those potential subjects because of "[their] stereotyped expectations" or "[our] prejudicial society"? No. As I've already pointed out, your photos were done in such a way as to provoke those responses from an audience like ours. (Deliberately or not -- your motives are your own.) One can't simply write off the criticism as a knee-jerk reaction from the racial disparity between father and daughter; for instance, Effigy2000's Flickr list includes many examples of photos from ordinary "modern multicultural family units" that provoke no such responses. It was not the subject matter that provoked The Creepy from us: it was your photos.

A photographer has many choices when making a photo. There are many that take place before and leading up to the shutter click, but one of the biggest takes place in considering what to present (out of the hundreds or thousands of shots) and then how to contextualize those selections. You've made and presented these photos in such as a way as to naturally evoke "creepy fathers and sexualized daughters" from this audience. These were your photographic and editorial decisions. To then retreat behind "I am not trying to direct what you want to believe" and "people are very occupied with fears, bad news, quick judgements" as if they hadn't been explicitly provoked by your photos... that is not merely ingenuous. That is downright cowardly. And I expect more from a true artist.

Yours,
A student of the medium.
posted by DaShiv at 1:29 PM on August 24, 2007 [6 favorites]


I meant disingenuous, of course.
posted by DaShiv at 1:31 PM on August 24, 2007


Did you read the part where O Zhang is a woman?

your mom's a woman.

OHOOOOHHH NOW WHO IS ZINGED?
posted by fishfucker at 1:54 PM on August 24, 2007 [7 favorites]


it's you, by the way, if you are wondering. you are zinged.
posted by fishfucker at 1:57 PM on August 24, 2007 [2 favorites]


...or Zhanged.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 2:01 PM on August 24, 2007 [2 favorites]


O, ZHANGED!
posted by kid ichorous at 2:28 PM on August 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'm with Ambrosia Voyeur: I think this is great art, and the artist has done a great job. While none of the photographs individually are outstanding, as a collective exhibition they really do resonate, and leave one with mixed feelings: revulsion, anger, happiness, sadness, and so forth.

Wolof earlier stated that his or her adopted Chinese baby is not an "artefact (sic) of colonialism". While I agree that a child cannot be an artifact, it can be a symbol of colonialism. The fact is that Chinese parents who cannot have children do not fly to the US to adopt babies. American families do. Additionally, it is largely white-American parents that do. African-Americans or Hispanic-American do not. There is an element of colonialism and a racial angle to the whole "let's adopt a cute (non-white) baby from a poor country", a la Jolie-Pitt, Madonna, Wolof, etc. There is no dearth of children in the US to be adopted. Why do people fly across the world? It is to obviate the need for the natural parents ever finding the child, disconnecting that child from his or her heritage so that such child becomes dependent on the adoptive parents.

To deny that the practice of adoption of other-race children carries the baggage of race and economic exploitation is an exercise in delusion. However, that does not mean that on an individual basis, the adoptive parents are bad or selfish people: they are likely loving and will make great parents. However, when one looks at the phenomenon in the aggregate, a certain pattern is apparent. Whether that pattern makes the beholder uncomfortable, is something that each beholder must wrestle with.

It is precisely that tension that the photographer so aptly captures.
posted by Azaadistani at 3:04 PM on August 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


Azaadistani: Comparing the Jolie-Pitt stuff to the more common practice of adopting Chinese girls is completely disingenuous. It's shockingly disingenuous.

There are two main reasons for the not uncommon practice of white parents adopting cute white chinese girls. First, there aren't very many cute white babies for adoption. There are far more white parents looking to adopt than there are white babies. Second, and most importantly, are the policies of the Chinese government. The reason all these chinese girls (and they are almost all girls) are available for adoption is solely because of the "one-child policy" of the Chinese government.

Blaming colonialism and racial baggage for the policies of the current communist Chinese government is non-sensical.

I'm not saying a one-child policy wasn't necessary to stem uncontrolled population growth in China. (I'm not saying it was, either... I don't know enough about it). I'm not saying that policy is or is not evil. I'm saying that policy is why white American people adopt cute Chinese babies. Not colonialism.

(As to your "African-Americans or Hispanic-Americans do not", that's because white parents are far more likely to adopt, so once again that is disingenuous).
posted by Justinian at 3:34 PM on August 24, 2007


Justinian: The reason that the Chinese babies are adoptable is because of China's one-child policy. That they are adopted by white parents in the US is not because of the one-child policy. I'm sorry that it makes you uncomfortable, but there are racial and colonial undertones to the process (NOTE: that does not make the practice unworthy or perverse, since many things in life have racial undertones or dynamics of inequalities).

You say that there are not enough white babies here in the US to adopt, so Chinese babies are the next logical alternative. Well, guess what? There is an abundance of non-white babies here in the US that need to be adopted, but are not. Is it because those who fly to China to adopt are more concerned about China's one-child policy than their own society? If you do not see any racial or colonial undertones to a second-best preference for Chinese babies, after white babies, then you are being disingenuous.
posted by Azaadistani at 3:40 PM on August 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


Well said DaShiv. I don't think people realize how much of a photo is before and after the shutter is released. The pictures in this collection were chosen from probably hundreds or thousands taken, and presented in such a way to evoke creepy feelings in the viewer.
posted by Sailormom at 3:48 PM on August 24, 2007


If you do not see any racial or colonial undertones to a second-best preference for Chinese babies, after white babies, then you are being disingenuous.

Wait, what does the word colonialism have to do with a preference for Asian interracial adoptions over African-American? Can you explain how nineteenth-century colonialism has direct bearing on American adoptions?

Also, I'm fairly sure that the adoptive families of every race overwhelmingly prefer same-race adoptions, sometimes for the sake of the child.

The original problem here is that Chinese families are abandoning their daughters, not necessarily that others are offering to take them in. To contort this into some kind of criticism of White people strikes me as illogical and mismatched axe-grinding.
posted by kid ichorous at 4:15 PM on August 24, 2007


"Where I disagree is that Zhang's work is bad technique. I think it's quite well executed; look how many people here on MeFi had a 'eww, creepy' reaction. Look how much discussion the series has engendered. Her art provoked, and that required some skill in execution."

Good art isn't just about provoking a reaction. I can throw shit at you and I'll get a strong reaction. Provoking strong reactions in people, even if they're very relevant and revealing, is not in itself a sign of good art. Effectiveness is not the only litmus test. I just don't understand how people fail to realize this. Too many people have this belief that "hey, this caused a strong reaction in me—it must be pretty good art!".

But I'll put forward one contestable but pretty persuasive argument that idea: if it's easy, it isn't art. Why? That's a good question, but I feel strongly that it's true. Now, I don't intend "easy" to include sitting a urinal on a table or drawing a soup can or a red square on a purple background. There's two parts of artistic technique, and both must be difficult. The first is the obvious technical execution, and, yes, in many cases that can turn out to be so trivially easy that anyone could have done it. But the second part of technique is conceptual, the idea of the art. And that can be hard or easy, too. And in all the examples I give above, the concept was hard, at least for those who did it first.

Now, bad provocative art that too many people take seriously usually fails both tests. As this example does. In terms of technical execution, I think, given DaShiv's analysis (who I trust as a photographer), that her technical skill here is actually middling, not poor, because she likely is deliberately making her photos look bad in a particular way. That takes a good awareness of relevant technique.

However, in terms of concept, it's here where she fails utterly. Not only is the basic idea of what's she's examining hackneyed, or at least very low hanging fruit; it's also the case that her execution of this idea is also completely without subtlety. It's a plodding and uninteresting exploration of her theme which relies upon exploiting the most obvious—and easy—reactions of her audience.

This is what makes it bad art. Good art has layers and invites exploration that lasts days or even years. This thread shows that her photos evokes exactly two responses. We'll of course argue about the provocative notions she evokes from us, but that's all about ourselves and our culture, not her work and its interaction with ourselves and our culture. That's an important difference.

I firmly believe that when an artist wishes to make his/her audience uncomfortable, he/she should do so in a very subversive way. This isn't an example of that, though I imagine she thinks she is being subversive. But truly subversive would have been to make good and seemingly natural portraits of fathers and daughters that people like but left some nagging bit of discomfort behind. That nagging bit of discomfort would be the analogue to the nagging bit of discomfort we feel about large scale adoption of another culture's children. It is a good thing, looked at in many ways, and when you look at the happy families, it's especially a good thing. But there's a disturbing side of it, too. Good art doing what she intended to do would have provoked in us the same dialog we would have if we were deeply honest about the ambivalences surrounding this sort of adoption. But, instead, she goes for hitting the egregious and largely irrelevant note of pedophilia and estrangement. That's bad for her purposes, too, because it makes it easy to dismiss the potential interesting things that would have been there if only she had been a better artist.

Finally, of course the reaction depends upon the daughters being Asian. But it's important her to understand the difference between sufficient and necessary cause. The racial difference is necessary, but it's not sufficient. She still needed to do all the things that DaShiv documents to achieve this "creepy" effect that the photos give. Why is that racial difference so important? Well, there's a couple of things that interact. First, I think, there's just the simple fact that when fathers and daughters look related, we instinctively feel much less the pedophilia vibe. Second, as mentioned by others, there's the whole thing about pedophiliac sex tourism in Asia by westerners that's evoked—I think the traditional dress strongly reinforces this.

Oh, I also wanted to comment about the assertion someone made that incest is mainly between biologically unrelated parents and children. This is true, but it's a very misleading thing to say. It gives the impression that blood-related incest is rare. And it isn't. It's common. It's just that the rate of incest is greatly increased over what is already far too common when the (almost always) male adult and female/male child are biologically unrelated to each other. But as someone who was married to a woman incested by her biological father, the insinuation that biological fathers don't do such things annoys me.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 4:24 PM on August 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


Azaadistani - There may well be racial overtones of some sort. But that isn't the same thing as colonialism! There are all sorts of reasons - some rational, some emotional - for white parents to have a preference to adopt a female chinese baby over a black baby or whatever here in the USA.

Some of those reasons have to do with race. None of those reasons have to do with colonialism!
posted by Justinian at 4:56 PM on August 24, 2007


So - I asked my wife to look at the photos. While doing that, she was saying, "that one is not bad," "these guys are so ugly," and "none of the girls look as nice as [our daughter]." When she was done, she asked me what was special about the pictures. I said that there is controversy about them, and that some people think they're creepy.
She said, "I thought that, too."
"But you didn't say so."
"I thought because they are on a publicly-accessible site, it couldn't be so."
Since it doesn't look like a porn site, it must just be her dirty mind, is how she explained her not speaking her feelings.

For whatever it's worth.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:55 PM on August 24, 2007


Maybe it's just that Asian women are meek and submissive, Kirth.
posted by Justinian at 6:51 PM on August 24, 2007


Good night folks, try the veal!
posted by Justinian at 6:51 PM on August 24, 2007


Interesting response, Kirth. Thanks for posting :)
posted by Phire at 7:29 PM on August 24, 2007


Jolie-Pitt, Madonna, Wolof, etc. There is no dearth of children in the US to be adopted. Why do people fly across the world?

I don't come from the US. Nor am I going there any time soon. And yet, imagine! There others just like me who don't come from there either! Some of us even speak a little bit of English!

What a world we live in!
posted by Wolof at 8:19 PM on August 24, 2007


Azaadistani you understand neither the American adoption process nor the meaning of the word colonialism.
posted by LarryC at 9:06 PM on August 24, 2007


"There is no dearth of children in the US to be adopted."

Well, isn't there a dearth of non-disabled infants in the US to be adopted?
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 9:49 PM on August 24, 2007


Gnostic Novelist: Shouldn't the title of the page be Daddy and Me?


Maybe you're thinking of Dad 'n Me? [Sorry, I know it's not Friday.]
posted by britain at 6:49 AM on August 26, 2007


DaShiv wrote: Were social relevance and the volume of viewer responses the best litmus tests of an artwork's quality, then Metafilter parodies and Terry Schiavo's death are two of the highest exemplars of 21st century art.

I have to agree that Terry Schiavo was, in fact, a great work of art.

It was an incredibly grand bit of theater, designed to reach many goals, which largely succeeded. Political propaganda is more obviously great art, when viewed from a distance. Nazi Germany is filled with clear examples of this.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 8:54 AM on August 29, 2007


Wolof earlier stated that his or her adopted Chinese baby is not an "artefact (sic) of colonialism".
There is an element of colonialism and a racial angle...


As the person who mentioned colonialism in this thread and to whom I think Wolof was partly responding to in this comment, I should probably clarify that I didn't mean to reduce his child and the others to ciphers or trite metaphors, and I certainly didn't mean that mixed race adoption was a form of colonialism. Rather, I was trying to show another perspective through which to view the photos other than the sexualized one. As this generation of kids and the ones to come grow up, I think they will have a huge and positive impact on attitudes and opinions regarding culture and race - attitudes and opinions that are in some ways legacies of colonialism.

I sincerely apologize if anyone was offended.

And artefact is a perfectly cromulent word, FireFox's spell checker and your smarmy [sic] be damned, Azaadistani.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:25 AM on August 29, 2007


Like you could offend me, Ampersand.
posted by Wolof at 3:19 PM on August 29, 2007


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