Cuny Janssen: Whatever Works

Photographs and text by Cuny Janssen
72 p with 54 coloured plates
210 x 170 mm, hardcover with linnen back

ISBN 978-3-86442-331-4

36,00 €

A Passage to India 20 Years ago

Twenty years ago I set out to photograph children all around the world. My first trip was to the south of India. I started in the province of Tamil Nadu, first living in a Church Women Centre in the city of Chennai, then in Mugaiyur, a small village. For six months I took pictures and had conversa­tions with roommates, guides and members of the families who had taken me in as a guest. I had very many questions, as did they. After children, the main subject was always love. »In your country they don’t have arranged marriages?« many said in surprise. I spoke especially with young unmarried women like myself. When I asked them how they felt about being expected to marry a stranger a common answer was »I am ready, let him come. If the cup is empty we can fill it, if it’s dirty, we can clean it.« Everything I heard from them and saw around me there filled me with both surprise and doubt, but above all with admiration. I admired their courage and faith. Their arranged marriages were a fascinating mystery to me. One way to understand arranged marriages was to make portraits. I photographed women and men various ages, engaged or planned couples and married couples. I studied love marriages but mostly marriages that had been arranged. It was important to me to ­portray their individuality and their dignity. After twenty years I am looking again at these portraits of Indian couples because only now, after experiencing the challenges of married life for sixteen years myself, the context has become personal. ­Indian society is changing rapidly and the younger generation now lives between extremes: more global and connected than ever, but raised within the cultural values of their grandparents. If it was up to them, they would replace Indian traditions with Western ideals of love and life, and the sooner the better. But what is ideal? My brother recently ­divorced after twenty-five years of marriage, which was shocking and disturbing for everyone involved. My daughters are growing up in the city of Amster­dam. Their generation considers it normal to have parents who are divorced or separated and to live in complex family structures. If you look at how often the subject of love and relationships is discussed in newspapers and magazines it is clear that the last word has not been said, quite apart from the added complexity of guiding my daughters through all the options of LGBT etc. that are enter­ing their lives. I have learned from conversations and reading and from my own experience that all relationships require a great deal of work and ­understanding and that any kind of marriage or ­relationship is an arrangement, or becomes one. I suppose love and life are like gardening in that it is difficult to specify any rules; time, neglect and accident will often produce unexpected beauty. The trick is to know beauty when you see it, and to be able to make the most of it.  Cuny Janssen