WWII

A Cry For The Last Child

In autumn 2008 I was feeling unwell and didn’t do any photography. That particular day I was limping across the bridge from the Plunkett train station in Waterford to catch a bus to the hospital, all soaked in drizzle and focused on my own misery. When I turned to The Quay I met the eyes of a giant girl looking at me from the Old Flour Mills over the river. I didn’t have any camera on me, neither was I planning to return to Waterford soon. I looked at the girl with regret and she looked at me with sorrow.

“I now see that sorrow, being a supreme emotion of which man is capable, is at once the type and test of all great art.”
De Profundis by Oscar WIlde
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Image courtesy of www.helnwein.com

Controversial, as some people say, artist Gottfried Helnwein was born in 1948 in war-torn Vienna, Austria. His biography you can read on his website ( all the links open in separate windows), and not only the biography. I have read his interviews and quotes, and also translated some from German, for good measure, and I advise you to do so to know all by yourself who he is, what he is telling and why.

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Image courtesy of www.helnwein.com

Many people get confused when they encounter unfamiliar aspects of art; they tend to interpret the meaning based on their own culture, and get confused even more. They might even call this confusion “shock”. My daughter and I went to The Body World 3 exhibition in Salt Lake City a few years ago. The generosity of the donors’ last gift was humbling. Was this exhibition shocking? No. It was educational. Shock is something that locks, not opens. When one says that something is shocking, they stop thinking and learning right there.

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Image courtesy of www.helnwein.com

My Father was a POW from 1941 to 1945. I only know from my Mother that he escaped, jumped in the sea and swam, but was reported by a local farmer and imprisoned again in a different camp.  He would sit on the sofa with me to watch a cheesy war-related love story on TV, but start crying after a few minutes; he just wasn’t able to bear the mention of the war. What terror he had come through? You think it will never come back? You think that Fascism is a ghost of the past? Think again.

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Image courtesy of www.helnwein.com

“There are times when sorrow seems to me to be the only truth. Other things may be illusions of the eye or the appetite, made to blind the one and cloy the other, but out of sorrow have the worlds been built, and at the birth of a child or a star there is pain.”
 De Profundis by Oscar Wilde

Why children?

There are some blood-chilling statistics for you to think about.  In the wars during the 80s-90s more children were killed than soldiers.

School shootings. Did you hear about gun control in the 19th century? Yet from 1800 till 1900 there were only about 50 school shootings registered in the USA, mostly as revenge against the teachers, or accidental ; about 190 cases in 20th century and 145 cases  from 2000-2013. Statistics include also dormitory and drive-by shootings near the school buildings, and this information is only for the United States.  You can also check http://www.ijvs.org/ which goes for International Journal on Violence in Schools.

How about home violence, genocide, starvation, children sex tourism? How about the gruesome  discovery in  Tuam?  I can go on and on about all the children who came into this world to be betrayed.  Do you still consider the paintings of Gottfried Helnwein “shocking”?

“I feel there is a strong bond between artists and children and all other sacred fools”
Gottfried Helnwein in an interview with Yuchi Konno for Yaso, Japan

When I think about Gottfried Helnwein’s personality,  the only thing that truly matters to me is Family. He is a family man who raised his family well. Over fifteen years ago he bought a castle near where I live. He resides there with his family, his children and grandkids. I wanted to know what their safe haven looks like; to see what the artist sees when he is with his own, away from the media and curious eyes. I contacted his son Cyril and asked if I could take some photos around the castle grounds.

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Isn’t it beautiful? They even have some ducks there, one named Donald. If you read the biography you will know that it is symbolic.

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I felt a little bit like an intruder. I wanted to leave as fast as I can, and I wanted to stay as long as I may. Sweet children, two of whom are of my grandchildren age, melted my heart.

I was invited inside the castle which wasn’t arranged and which I never expected. It is so delightful and homely inside, with the afternoon sun beaming through the green vines covering the gothic windows. And you know what? It came out that I finally got to see all the images from that Waterford 2008 installation because Cyril kindly gave me a copy of the book The Last Child!

Having this peaceful home why would one bother crying warnings?

Any of us can make our home a castle: we can barricade ourselves from the world, protect our children from bad influences, home-teach, train in marital arts, life-coach them to be always on the safe side, you name it. And say you succeed when the rest of the world is falling apart. But let’s see it this way: do you want your child to be the last child?

Photography tip of the day: Focus on the eyes. As long as they are in focus all your image won’t look ruined.

inesemj_photographyHave a great weekend!