Irina and Eva Ionesco: The Story of The Hype and Hypocrisy
25 maart 2022 
27 min. read

Irina and Eva Ionesco: The Story of The Hype and Hypocrisy

Irina Ionesco (b. 1930) is a French photographer of Romanian origin, mostly known for scandalous photographs of her prepubescent daughter Eva (b. 1965). Irina was born to Romanian immigrants and spent her childhood with her relatives in Romania. As they were circus performers, Irina became a contortionist. After a stage accident in the 1960s, she switched to drawing and photography. Ionesco's works, combining Molinier’s fetishist atmosphere with fashion photography, give us times of Baudelaire as seen from the sexually liberated 1970s. Ten years after Kubrick adapted Nabokov's novel Lolita, Irina Ionesco began photographing her daughter and gradually turned Eva into the youngest Playboy model. 

 Irina Ionesco Natacha

Fig. 1. Natacha, 1970 (artnet.com)

 Irina Ionesco Grand Nu

Fig. 2. Grand Nu, 1970 (artnet.com)

 Irina Ionesco Byzantine Icon,

Fig. 3. Byzantine Icon, 1978 (artnet.com)

 Irina Ionesco A crowd of roses

Fig. 4. A crowd of roses (artnet.com)

 Irina Ionesco Woman with a dagger

Fig. 5. Woman with a dagger (invaluable.com)

 Irina Ionesco With long nails

Fig. 6. With long nails (photoliberte.eklablog.com)

 Irina Ionesco photo

Fig. 7. Model wearing a fur boa (lot-art.com)

 Irina Ionesco The opium smoker

Fig. 8. The opium smoker (artnet.com)

Irina Ionesco Model on the floor

Fig. 9. Model on the floor (goldminetrashvintage.wordpress.com)

 Irina Ionesco  Lying Nude

Fig. 10. Lying Nude (artnet.com)

Lilith Named Eva

Those who've checked out our article on Jan Saudek's photography may remember his picture "Black Sheep and White Crow" (1995), showing a mother who prostitutes her prepubescent daughter. Many people would associate the case of Irina and Eva Ionesco with this famous image that was removed from the Ballarat International Foto Biennale in 2011 as too scandalous. Eva's career as the "Pretty Baby" started in 1974 when her mother held an exhibition at the Nikon Gallery in Paris. As you can guess, sexualized childhood was a highly-demanded concept. The girl was photographed naked and semi-naked for Der Spiegel and Penthouse. She debuted as an actress at 11, starring in Polanski's movie The Tenant

Scandalous Fame

A year later, the girl starred in Puppy Love, labeled as child pornography in many countries. Eva made her mother a reputation, being a smaller version of Lolita, whom Humbert Humbert also called Lilith. The enterprising parent had her scandalous fame and, later, punishment: she lost custody of Eva in 1977. The adult daughter still takes her revenge, suing Irina and accusing her of making pornographic photos. In her autobiography published in 2015, Eva pushes things even further: she claims that Irina was born of father-daughter incest.

 Irina Ionesco Eloge De Ma Fille

Fig. 11. Eloge De Ma Fille (bakunen.com)

 Irina Ionesco Eloge de ma fille

Fig. 12. Eloge de ma fille (ameba.jp)

 Irina and Eva Ionesco

Fig. 13. blogspot.com 

 Irina and Eva Ionesco photography

Fig. 14. lookatme.ru

Irina Ionesco Eva wearing a gown

Fig. 15. Eva wearing a gown (lempertz.com)

 Irina Ionesco Eva model

Fig. 16. 

Irina Ionesco Eva child model

Fig. 17. 

 eva Irina Ionesco

Fig. 18. fineartamerica.com

 eva On the cover of the Spanish magazine

Fig. 19. On the cover of the Spanish magazine. 

 eva Ionesco

Fig. 20. Eva Ionesco (libertatea.ro)

 Irina Ionesco photography Eva

Fig. 21. catawiki.nl

 eva ionesco nude

Fig. 22. forumfree.net

 Irina Ionesco Eva with women in a saloon,

Fig. 23. Eva with women in a saloon, 1970 (mutualart.com)

 Irina Ionesco Vampire,

Fig. 24. Vampire, 1970 (ocula.com)

 Irina Ionesco Dracula

Fig. 25. Dracula, 2006 (blogspot.com)

My Baby Came Down From Romania

Though, there's an article claiming that Eva Ionesco "More Russian than Romanian —therefore no link with Eugene, father of the theater of the absurd and The Bald Soprano" (Catherine Lalonde, ledevoir.com), one look at the images is enough to recognize the gothic tradition that historically stems from English (Irish) literature and Romanian history. Conceptually, it's Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897) and the figure of femme fatale (originally - a female vampire from the gothic novella Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu, 1872) that seems to shape her mother's aesthetics. We can't tell what're the exact roots of Eva Ionesco and don't find this to be of any importance. But what we do find interesting is her image that doesn't belong to the Russian cultural landscape where the stories of vampires remained a part of folklore, not affecting the literary tradition as much as in Europe. By the way, Eva's statement about her mother's incestuous origin looks curious through the prism of this aesthetics since some Balkan legends describe male vampires as having great sexual desire for women. 

Irina Ionesco lying nude

 Fig.26.

Irina Ionesco Death and Maiden 

Fig.27.

Between Carroll, Nabokov, and Stoker

This paragraph is devoted to those who don't see any difference between "a desk and a raven," equaling Humbert Humbert to Carroll, Carroll to Irina Ionesco, and so on. Photographic experiments of the author of Alice's Adventures stem from the specific attitude to children in Victorian times. Tolerating child labor, Victorian people regarded kids (especially girls) as holy and innocent. You won't call pornography the depiction of the angel on the icon since the angel is sexless. So, the naked or semi-naked child symbolized the state of Adam and Eve before the fall, when they weren't actually naked and know nothing about copulation. Nabokov's character understands the whole situation differently: he misses not the times when people were innocent of sex but the pagan times when sex itself was innocent (e. g. remembering his teen years, he calls himself a faun-kid). 

Vampire Tradition

While Carroll speculates of the heavenly kingdom and Nabokov of the Golden age, Irina Ionesco chooses the dark side and reaches immortality (one of her books is entitled Les Immortelles) through the vampire tradition: she makes her child an immortal vampire-kid with a predictable outcome. The kid becomes a full-grown vampire who drinks the mother's blood: Eva’s written a book about her experience and directed a film based on her childhood memories. She exploits the past and sues her mother, which is the price for Irina Ionesco to pay. Well, as a vampire, Eva's in her right. But is she right as a person who protests against the sexualization of childhood shooting a movie where it's shown? 

Irina Ionesco vampire art

Fig.28.

Overdoing Adults

Looking at the pictures, you may ask what they deliver or what was the point besides the money and artistic ambitions. Well, there can be an answer, though, it may not be Irina's motivation. Besides everything said, the provocative shoots may be seen as a children's urge to be like adults: to do makeup, to wear lingerie, to smoke and drink, even to make love, because it's what they're surrounded by. Kids naturally imitate things they see, especially if the things are heavily promoted. Many little girls watching TV shows want to be like another sexy chick, many boys discover cheap porn magazines in the closet, and so on (well, that's how it was in the 80s because now they google it). The coming of pubescence is something we can't delay, so the best advice is to make everything possible for your kids to be surrounded by things like The Venus Callipyge, at least, they'd develop a taste.

Irina and Eva Ionesco art

Fig.29.

Irina and Eva Ionesco Lilith

Fig.30.

Hypocrisy

The public outcry for cases like this may seem justified. And it would be so if not the double standards of our society: pedophilia is horrible, but the sexualization of childhood is appropriate (e. g. in the videos of Miley Cyrus and Melanie Martinez). Irina Ionesco is a monster, but the child beauty pageant doesn't look weird. The French photographer ripped the bitter fruit of her urge to shock and scandalize, but what's the difference between her and those enthusiastic parents who send their kids to beauty contests? 

 Irina Ionesco nude

Fig.31.

Irina Ionesco Sylvia Kristel

 Fig.32. 'Sylvia Kristel '  

Irina Ionesco model with umbrella

Fig.33. 'Model with umbrella ', 1975 

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Sources: Wikipedia.org; L’enfant sacrifiée au désir (ledevoir.com)

About the author
Darya is a philologist who lives and works in Saint-Petersburg, Russia. She is specialized in Russian literature.
Lawrence Buttigieg
By

Lawrence Buttigieg

on 26 Mar 2022

Thanks for this wonderful and insightful summary of Irina Ionesco's career and work with her daughter as model.

Darya
By

Darya

on 28 Mar 2022

We're glad you like it!

Will
By

Will

on 05 Apr 2022

"The public outcry for cases like this may seem justified. And it would be so if not the double standards of our society" This reads that the latter somehow negates the former, which is absolutely not the case. The fact is that across much of continental Europe at the time there was an open campaign to decriminalise paedophila, and these images which are no more than child-porn rode that wave. The hypocracy where a 'lesser' degree of sexualing children is tacitly permitted doesn't alter the fact that the images - preludes to child sex abuse of the imagination - are vile. The author of this piece can attempt to hide behind the 'whatabout...' fallacy, but shungagallery are, here on this page, deliberately publishing sofcore child porn and using a pretty poor ruse to excuse it.

Darya
By

Darya

on 08 Apr 2022

Well, unfortunately for you, shungagallery has already posted pieces that can be classified as child porn (some shunga by Kuniyoshi, pictures of Martin van Maele and illustrations to books of Pierre Louys). It's strange that you're triggered only by this article. My personal view is that even if we completely ban the works of Ionesco, it won't decrease the level of child abuse. Her photographs are scandalous, but they don't seem to make the weather, at least now. They only expose people who come to the comment section to complain about the inappropriate material. I saw this almost under every post about Ionesco so your comment was expectable. What for child porn, I'm pretty sure that anyone who wants to watch it, finds ways to do this. And the number of posts about Ionesco's works can't change the situation or make it worse.

Darya
By

Darya

on 09 Apr 2022

And the funniest thing here is that Eva Ionesco herself can be regarded as a distributor of inappropriate materials as far as she shot an autobiographic movie including scenes of posing for her mother.

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