I was five and he was six
We rode on horses made of sticks He wore black and I wore white He would always win the fight

Bang bang, he shot me down
Bang bang, I hit the ground
Bang bang, that awful sound
Bang bang, my baby shot me down


Death by children

People claim that guns don’t kill people. It’s their users who end up pulling the trigger. But give someone a hammer and what does he want to do with it? Every tool and every piece of equipment carries its implied action in itself. Death by Children – the newest series by Jelle Rietveld – presents the viewer with the macabre discrepancies between colorful child’s play and simulated violence. Using a style anchored in product photography he documents a wide selection of toy guns. He captures these playthings in an unfiltered, concrete and highly focused manner.

rietveld presents the viewer with the macabre discrepancies between colorful child’s play and simulated violence

He found these apparently heavily used toys through sites like eBay and Marktplaats. Every one of them has become a singular fragment of a line of mass production through their very personal wear and tear. The percussion caps have melted the plastic coating and the inevitable throwing and bashing has given them an unique road-map of imperfections. By placing them on a highly contrasting surface all the scratches and dents seem to transform the object into a perfect prototype of itself. Rietveld manages to capture these worn toys in a way that makes it seem like they have never looked any different. He took them from the toybox and placed them into a photographic vacuum of time. By doing so he lets them lose much of their associated innocence. The idea of an object frozen in time is emphasized by his clever use of digital image editing. Shadows are accentuated and the background is transformed into a even plane of color by leveling the structure of the paper. What remains is a field of pure pastels in which his subject matter seems to float weightlessly.

Any innocence still left in the image is lost forever once these photographs are paired with the second part of the series; portraits of children pretending to be shot, each little actor more convincing than the other. Child and toy gun are placed on the same pastel background. This creates some very eye-pleasing images through the smart contrasting of color, the deadpan compositions and the graphical play of light and shadow. However, while enjoying the visual aspects of these pieces another emotion seems to come bubbling to the surface, one of strong resentment of the implications of the scene. While the children probably had fun lying under a technical camera to play being shot, the spectator of the resulting photograph can’t help but take it seriously. It is this imbalance between style and subject matter, the disproportionate relation between narrative and composition, that lets these pieces have their intended effect.

Text by Emiel van der Pol, Art Historian, writer

Death by Children (2015)

Fuiji Crystal Archive print on Dibond with mat plexiglass.

  • 37,5 cm x 50 cm #5 (2AP)
  • 61,5 cm x 82 cm #5 (2AP)
  • 91,5 cm x 122 cm #5 (2AP)
  • Installation, 28 works: 22,5 cm x 30 cm #3 (2AP) (sizes can be adjusted)

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