Backyards, BB Guns, and Nursery Rhymes

Photography and text by Krista Leigh Steinke


Placing a contemporary spin on familiar archetypal stories, Backyards, BB Guns, and Nursery Rhymes is a photographic series that uses references from children's literature as a point of departure to explore childhood and the peculiar world of "make-believe". Designed to teach morals and values, children's nursery rhymes, fables, and fairytales were created to help children confront emotional conflicts such as the internal struggle between right and wrong. Smashing apples on a porch, burying dolls in a sandbox, or running away from suburbia, the children in my photographs appear to be in the midst of some kind of mischief or trouble. As my title suggests, there are three main characters featured in my images: the setting, the props, and the child model. The role of the antagonist and the protagonist fluctuates among these three, blurring the lines between good and evil. The images are intended to be read as visual metaphors that stir up psychological underpinnings of fear, anxiety, or desire. By creating tension between the familiar and comfortable and that which feels ironic, awkward, and unpredictable, I attempt to reveal hidden, uncomfortable truths about the human psyche. My aim is not to illustrate a specific story but to capture an unresolved moment from which viewers must imagine a beginning and end and rely on personal experience and individual ideologies to help interpret and attribute meaning to the work. I believe that "childhood" can be seen as a microcosm of the human experience and the play life of a child can poetically mirror society and culture.

In order to imitate the fantasy world of a child, my images, on both a formal and conceptual level, sit on the cusp between reality and fiction. To achieve this, I combine traditional photography with digital manipulation and compositing. When photographing this series, I arranged the location and props and then invited the children to spontaneously interact in the staged environment. An uncanny relationship emerges between the candid gestures and expressions of the child and the elements that are premeditated. I often consider this work a collaboration between the models and myself or a documentation of an impromptu theatrical performance. In an attempt to remove the images further from reality, I merged the photographs with old super8 film stock which slightly alters the colors and produces the blurred vignette around the photos. I grew up in the 70s and 80s, so the "home movie look" of super 8 film is reminiscent of my own childhood and creates the illusion of peering into an etheral window. This effect also introduces a voyeuristic quality to the work, commenting on the complex relationship that adults have with children and placing the question of innocence onto the viewer's lap. As we peer through this window, are we the big bad wolf, the girl, the woodsman, or grandma? Or can it be that we carry all of these characters inside of us at the same time?