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.
Fig. 1. Natacha, 1970 (artnet.com)
Fig. 2. Grand Nu, 1970 (artnet.com)
Fig. 3. Byzantine Icon, 1978 (artnet.com)
Fig. 4. A crowd of roses (artnet.com)
Fig. 5. Woman with a dagger (invaluable.com)
Fig. 6. With long nails (photoliberte.eklablog.com)
Fig. 7. Model wearing a fur boa (lot-art.com)
Fig. 8. The opium smoker (artnet.com)
Fig. 9. Model on the floor (goldminetrashvintage.wordpress.com)
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.
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.
Fig. 11. Eloge De Ma Fille (bakunen.com)
Fig. 12. Eloge de ma fille (ameba.jp)
Fig. 13. blogspot.com
Fig. 14. lookatme.ru
Fig. 15. Eva wearing a gown (lempertz.com)
Fig. 18. fineartamerica.com
Fig. 19. On the cover of the Spanish magazine.
Fig. 20. Eva Ionesco (libertatea.ro)
Fig. 21. catawiki.nl
Fig. 22. forumfree.net
Fig. 23. Eva with women in a saloon, 1970 (mutualart.com)
Fig. 24. Vampire, 1970 (ocula.com)
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.
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).
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?
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?
Fig.32. 'Sylvia Kristel '
Fig.33. 'Model with umbrella ', 1975
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Sources: Wikipedia.org; L’enfant sacrifiée au désir (ledevoir.com)