the photoshooter's journey from taking to making

GETTING BEYOND “SMILE”

By MICHAEL PERKINS

Pretty but a bit prim. See below to watch them come alive.

Girl Scouts posing for a troop picture. Pretty but a bit prim. See below to watch them come alive.

THE HUMAN RACE TAKES MORE PHOTOGRAPHS EVERY TWO MINUTES, TODAY, THAN WERE CAPTURED DURING THE ENTIRE 19th CENTURY. As staggering as that statistic is, it’s even more amazing on a personal level, when we contemplate how many of those gazillions of images involve our children, as we chase the ever-elusive goal of pictorially documenting (or so it seems) every second of their existence. Not only are we constantly on the job as shooters, our young ones must also be forever “on”, delivering camera-ready smiles and cherubic cuteness on cue.

With this in mind, it’s no wonder that kids actually evolve an alter ego to use for these “candid” moments after a while. Patented smiles, standby poses, a whole little system of default settings for quick use when Mom and Dad are in click mode. So, paradoxically, we are taking more and more pictures that reveal less and less about our children…..actually pushing their personalities further and further from discovery.

It’s tricky. And the results of our efforts actually count for more as time goes on, as traditional children’s portrait studios at department stores, malls, etc., are closing their doors. Increasingly, the pictures that we take of our kids are the ones which provide the most definitive chronicle of their most important years.

Take two, with just three extra words spoken: now go crazy.

Take two, with just three extra words spoken: now go crazy.  1/40 sec., f/4, ISO 800, 35mm.  

Point a camera at a child and he will try to give you what you want. But let him know it’s all right to inject himself into the process, and you will be amazed at the difference in the end product.

I recently took a series of informal portraits of several packs of Girl Scouts at a museum. They were told that they could use any of a variety of costume accents and musical instruments to create their own concept of the artists they saw on exhibit on their tour. Some of the girls organically assumed another identity completely, rock goddess, cowgirl, bluesy diva, and so on. Others stood frozen, as if waiting for me or someone “official” to tell them “what to do”. The hardest shots were the group portraits of the individual troops. The first frame was always stiff, awkward, like bankers at First National posing for a company picture in 1910.

However, simply by my saying just a few words like, “now act like you want to”, or, “now, act crazy”, the formal camera faces were stripped away, with truly great results. Arms on hips: attitude: dance poses: defiance.

Real kids.

I didn’t tell them what kind of pose to give me. I didn’t have to. They knew.

A camera can be a momentary intruder in a child’s busy day, but it doesn’t have to be. And photos of our children can actually show the magic behind the mechanical smile. However, the request that a kid show you something real must be a sincere one. And you have to be ready when the moment comes.

Getting beyond “smile” is the beginning of something wonderful.

(Follow Michael Perkins on Twitter @mpnormaleye)

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