shoot the kids
The winter, now in full swing, puts a bit of a damper on outside jobs. The days are shorter, the weather unpredictable and the general tempo of things seems to slow down, grinding occasionally to an unwanted halt. Not being one to sit on my laurels waiting for the phone to ring or the email to ping, I took some time out this month to re-examine the offspring – photographically speaking. I like children. I made four and, if memory serves me correctly, I was once a child myself. I feel for mine though, as the progeny of a photographer they have between them endured some trials. When Edwyn, now 24, was eight or nine we took him one January afternoon to a freezing pond on Hampstead Heath where he had to stand shirtless, looking deathly and frozen for the jacket of a book; a grim tale of a depressed lad who one day turned and walked into a lake to be seen no more. In between shots Edwyn had to be cloaked in a towel and rubbed down. But at least he survived – and the book looked great.
I’m guessing that children are the most popular subject for pictures Gawd love ‘em. Yet still it’s rare that I see portraits or action shots that get to the heart of the wee beasties. There Is an awful lot of vibrant yet anodyne shots that look like Persil ads and the high street photographers, on the whole, perpetuate this shiny lifestyle look. The advent of mobile phones as cameras has done little to improve quality control and while I’m all for spontaneity, my tip is to slow down and be prepared for the spontaneous to occur. As Cartier Bresson said, ‘the more I practice the luckier I seem to get.’ On top of all this we all want our kids to look happy in pictures (so that they can’t later sue us for their therapy bills?) There must be piles to the moon of fake smiles and awkward grimaces attempting fake smiles. Anyone who likes a good movie will know that cheeriness and smiling is less poignant, somehow less deep, than the pensive and more emotional. Capturing those moments of struggle, reflection or simply day to day being is more likely to result in timeless, classic shots that the kids will want to keep and show.
If there is a secret to wonderful images of children, your own or borrowed ones, I would say it is to really pay attention, look and listen, notice how and who they are right now. It’s hard not to be impressed whether they are babies or trying the outskirts of adulthood for the first time. I love it when I revisit that abject wonder of look, we made a person. If this is all sounding a bit serious, remember too to have fun. I’m not banning smiles, just pretend ones. Children love attention and will perform if they feel they have a good audience, good for lively shots and the candids of pausing.
Monochrome is superb for preserving the fleeting stages of growing up. My offspring range from ten to 26, and yes, I don’t look old enough. I have always photographed them with natural light, lens aperture wide open for a lovely shallow focus, often while they are absorbed or unaware. Sometimes in their teenage years I get a fine shot of a spread hand, (or worse, a lone finger) which means: DON’T TAKE MY PICTURE! I persevere, looking to find who is inside the cherubic face, watching their personalities develop and express, chronicling the biggest journey of all.