Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Cameras And Photography

Last fall, I mentioned that we had purchased a pair of super tough, waterproof, shock-proof, freeze-proof cameras for use by the kids. The idea was to see what would happen if young children were given the chance to use these tools without adults hovering over them, worried they would break them. It was a two part experiment: the first being to see if these cameras really could stand up to a year in a play-based preschool, with the second being to see what the kids photograph if left to their own devices.

Our Panasonic Lumix (DMC-TS4) cameras have lived up to the hype. Nine months later, both are still in perfect working order, despite having been repeatedly dropped on concrete, down stairs, and from the branches of trees. They are still working like new despite having been lost outdoors for more than a week in the midst of winter, plunged underwater, and otherwise abused. 

We now have a rather large collection of photos, which I upload at the end of each day onto a computer donated by one of our families, which we use exclusively for this purpose, letting them run as a slideshow for the children and parents to view.

I would say that most of the photos the children have taken this year have been of the "accidental" variety, meaning that they are the result of kids just goofing around while figuring out how the cameras work. Whereas, I'm from the simple point-and-shoot school of classroom photography, the kids wound up playing around with all the various settings and features, not usually knowing what they were doing, snapping dozens of shots of their own toes and thumbs, the backs of heads, and such super close ups that they are a study in black. One of the most common comments about young children and technology is something along the lines of, "My two-year-old knows more about my smart phone than I do." This is why: they just play with it, unafraid of breaking it, deleting things, or wracking up huge bills, the way many of us might.

Of the intentional photos, the first thing that jumps out at me is how much more prominently we adults feature in the children's photography than the regular photo streams that emerge from our school. Obviously, adults tend to focus on the children and what they're doing, but these photos of moms and dads serving as parent-teachers in partnership with children are probably a much more accurate photographic representation of what our school is all about. 

More than one child has spent a classroom session documenting every square inch of his mother, her toes and ankles, the downy hairs on the back of her neck, the curve of her back, her ears, nose and fingers, every detail lovingly documented. It's rather touching to come across these impromptu and candid photo sessions.

Of course, that also brings me to one of the aspects of the experiment that I was concerned about going in: the kids are liable to take less than flattering, sometimes even embarrassing, photos. These intimate photo sessions, for instance, often include some images that might not pass Facebook's community standards. They are loving, yes, but also a bit revealing. These, I show only to the "model," allowing her to keep or delete them according to her own sense of modesty. And, of course, there have been a few sessions in which one or more kids skulked around the place gigglingly documenting everyone's butts, cracks, tattoos, underpants reveals, and all. After we've had our laugh, those get deleted as well.

That said, of the thousands of images, there are hundreds of "keepers," mostly portraits of friends and family that deserve to be preserved, but recently, I suppose because the cameras have now been with us long enough that they are not "special," I've been noticing more of what I would call "artistic" efforts. Last week, for instance, one of our boys, normally engaged in the center of activity and typically, then, the subject of photos, spent a day on the sidelines, being intentional about his efforts. Watching him, it was like watching a professional at work, carefully capturing moments, arranging things, taking and re-taking the same or similar images. I even heard him ask a friend to move because, "You're blocking the light."

The photos illustrating this post are some of his work.

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Amy said...

I love this, Tom. We've always had a "kid cam" at the house and it's so fun to look at what the kids are taking pictures of. It hard not to get misty when you see how they view you, and their life.

This is a little off-topic, but mildly related - yesterday in my daughter's 4-5's coop class, I was the parent manning a station where the kids were asked to make a portrait of their mother to give as a Mother's Day gift. The kids had also made frames, and these were the portraits to go in the frame. As I was sitting there, chatting with the kids I noticed that one of them was drawing a nude of his mother. I asked him about it and he said that the was in the shower. :) It was VERY anatomically correct. Our teacher and parent educator happen to both be sitting at the table too, and we each noticed one at a time, as did the other kids at the table. We talked about bodies and that that's what they look like etc. A couple of the other kids followed the lead and made portraits of their Moms in all of their glory. We discussed how sometimes shower-time is private, and not everyone will want their naked bodies drawn for everyone to see. The solution the kids came up with was "dry" portraits on the other side. I couldn't stop giggling all day, and think about what an awesome gift for always these will be. :)

It made me so thankful for our little school, and that we've all known each other so intimately for the past 3-4 years. We had the ability to see the beauty and love without having to be concerned that this was a sign of something ominous.

Suzanne Axelsson - Interaction Imagination said...

I love seeing what children focus on with the camera... it sort of opens a secret world...

After summer I will be kick starting Through the Eyes of the Child project again...
a project to help teachers and parents see through the eyes of their children using photography... a sort of listening and collaboration project...
it would be great if you and your children would like to join in too.

preschool teacher at Filosofiska, Stockholm, blogger at Interaction Imagination, and believer in the power of play and children!