Children in My Path–People II

 

Children at the school playground in Mashpi, Ecuador, 2014

Children at the school playground in Mashpi, Ecuador, 2014

 

In my last post I departed from nature and presented adults I’ve encountered over the past four-plus decades. Today: little people.

The secret to photographing children and young people is that there is no secret. Capturing their special essence takes trust, split-second timing, and limited expectations. In short, it seems like a felicitous accident if the image looks reasonably spontaneous and without frozen smiles. Getting a group of children together for a photo must happen quickly, before they have time to think about it. For the Ecuadorean kids above, though they were curious about me and drew together to make a tourist happy, I can see after the fact that some were not perfectly comfortable granting the request. But look how they bonded together–seven of the ten put their arms around or otherwise embraced each other, as if to reassure themselves there was no danger from this stranger or her camera.

Boy with distinct eyebrows, clutching roses, Mashpi, Ecuador, 2014

Boy with distinct eyebrows, clutching roses, Mashpi, Ecuador, 2014

I usually ask permission to take a person’s photograph, though that can lead to abject failure. But on occasion I am able to capture a certain authentic spirit and mood that the children are feeling, and what I happen to be doing with my camera has little influence on their expressions, vitality or body language. Those pictures, taken without instructions except perhaps where to stand for a preferred background, reflect the inner instinct and energy of the child and usually turn out best. Asking for a “say cheese” is asking for a forced face–the essence of the moment evaporates. In my experience, going through the motions begging for a smile yields forgettable results.

I’ve taken other photographs without express permission or even the awareness of the subjects, and these capture children just being themselves.  An image’s success is due primarily to fortuitous timing (happy chance/sheer luck).  Only the photos of the boy on the Lincoln statue below and the children on a street in Villefranche fall fully into this category.

Not having had children of my own, I cherished time spent years ago playing with my siblings’ children, and in later years in Costa Rica, listening to our property caretakers’ children at play, or watching them quietly drawing or inventing their games. Since my time with young children has been quite limited, I have never been gifted at communicating with them. Perhaps the effort to capture a child’s image in a photograph reveals an unacknowledged wish to make that child mine, to get close, if just for a moment!  Or maybe it’s just the sudden inspiration of lovely lighting and the magic moment itself. I value that child’s time and willingness to be a subject. Being able to show the photo on the camera’s screen to the curious child afterward gives me pleasure and a sense of reciprocity, especially when that revelation seems respectful and true.

Songs of Innocence, by William Blake (1757-1827)

When the voice of children are heard on the green
And laughing is heard on the hill,
My heart is at rest within my breast
And everything else is still.

{Nurse’s Song, st. 1}

Brother and sister, Zailyn and Jefferson, San Vito, Costa Rica, 2015

Brother and sister, Zailyn and Jefferson, San Vito, Costa Rica, 2015

 

Boy watching Harvest Day Parade, 1979, from San Francisco City Hall, Lincoln statue perch

Boy watching Harvest Day Parade from the statue of Abraham Lincoln, north side of San Francisco City Hall, California, 1978  (digitized from aged slide).  My first photo of this subject was a profile, with the boy on his feet, elbow resting on Lincoln’s head, watching the parade passing by on the street below. Then he started to slide down, and looked up at the precise instant I snapped a second shot. 

 

Skateboarders, Villefranche, France, 1982 (digitized from aged slide)

Skateboarders, Villefranche, France, 1982 (digitized from aged slide)

 

Keiner with new dog, San Vito, Costa Rica, 2010

Keiner with new dog, San Vito, Costa Rica, 2010

 

Leo, with squirt gun, Rio Negro de San Vito, Costa Rica, 2010

Leo, with squirt gun, Rio Negro de San Vito, Costa Rica, 2010

 

Ngöbe Buglé girl, La Casona, Costa Rica, 1990 (digitized from aged slide)

Ngöbe Buglé girl, La Casona, Costa Rica, 1990 (digitized from aged slide)

 

Girl on her First Communion day, Tortuguero, Costa Rica, 2012

Girl on her First Communion day, Tortuguero, Costa Rica, 2012

 

Holiday outing, Finca Cantaros, Linda Vista de San Vito, Costa Rica, 2014

Holiday outing, Finca Cantaros, Linda Vista de San Vito, Costa Rica, 2014

 

Girls on the beach at Tortuguero, Costa Rica, 2012

Girls on the beach at Tortuguero, Costa Rica, 2012

 

Lilli, San Vito, Costa Rica, 2008

Lilli, Linda Vista de San Vito, Costa Rica, 2008

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