Ruud van Empel is a Dutch photographer with a penchant for shooting gorgeous Black children in slightly fantastical, tropical environments. I was first exposed to his work via gallerist James Danzinger's blog, The Year in Pictures:
Van Empel’s trademark pieces are Rousseau-like creations picturing (mostly) black children in the middle of vibrant jungle or verdant landscapes. Created and collaged and using photoshop, they are made up of hundreds of individual photographs so that every detail shimmers with life. The photographs of the children are slightly manipulated in a way that makes them appear fictional. Van Empel’s work imagines a world somewhere between children’s books, paintings, and science fiction.In this post I've juxtaposed van Empel's work with old family photos shot in Liberia, West Africa circa 1955-1960. Though both images were shot indoors, you can be sure that the landscape just outside was not at all unlike the lush wonderlands depicted in van Empel's photographs. The two little boys are my father and uncle-- sophisticated and elegant yes, but hardly visitors.
I understand that many people may feel a little queasy about the political correctness of such imagery, but looking at Van Empel’s pictures of both black and white children, there’s so much more visual oomph to the black subjects it’s easy to understand that the explanation is simply pictorial. Also the children are not so much pictured as unschooled natives but as sophisticated and elegant visitors to their edenic but strange environments.