Little Glimpses from Low Angles

My son smiling at the camera.

Let me start by saying this isn't a normal Bend the Sun blog post.  This isn't concerned with education, or challenges, and it's not intended to introduce a new technique or piece of equipment.  This is just a bit of me putting my mind to paper about something I've found intellectually refreshing.  A bit of a recapturing of the passions that led me to start this whole BTS thing.

I won a couple of awards this week in the Canadian Forces photography competition, and I've been getting a number of e-mails from friends and colleagues congratulating me and asking about my work.  The questions have covered so many different subjects, everything about what I'm doing next, what I'm reading and studying, what techniques and equipment I'm toying with, why didn't I submit this one, or why did I submit that one... you get the point.  One of the questions noted how a previous posts have mentioned my studies of other photographers and adapting their styles and techniques, so he asked if I was studying anyone in particular.  The thing is, lately the best photographic lessons I've learned have come from my 6-year old son William. 

A boy near a curtain smiling

William's absolutely obsessed with a little Spider-Man digital camera we bought him for Christmas a year ago, which he carries around in a little blue-striped cardboard box, snapping photos of any and everything that strikes him.  They're a collection of little glimpses from a low angle lens.  Here's a little story from our family living-room a week ago: 

William watches his little brother Luke playing at the foot of the couch with some Lego.  He reaches into his camera box, pulls it out, and takes a photo.  He then does what we all do from time to time, he hangs his head down, staring into the tiny low-res 1” screen on the back, taking the image in.  With a puzzled look he looks back at his brother and stares for about 20 seconds.  I sit and watch quietly so as not to disturb the drama that's playing out in his head, just watching the wheels turning and waiting to see what he's going to do next.  He takes a few steps to his left, looks at the camera, and asks Luke to stand up and move towards the light.  He tells him it's because the camera, “doesn't work too well in the dark,” and he shuffles around in the most entertaining and quizzical ways to compose the shot.  Eventually after a few more clicks he looks down, smiles at whatever it was he finally got just right, and is off to take some more.

None of that seems particularly stunning I'm sure to most people, but to me it's phenomenal and inspiring because I've never taught him anything at all about photography.  He has never heard about posing a subject, composing in a frame, adapting to low light situations.  He does what he does it because he's learned it himself.  It's his world, and he wants to see it in a way that speaks to him. 

Keep in mind he could choose to do anything his heart desired at that moment, grab a toy, play with Lego with his brother, read a book, but there's simply nothing he'd rather do than take a photo.  It touches me because unlike me, when he grabs a camera it's for nothing but pleasure.  He's not going to make a profit from the sale of his images, he's not trying to apply a technique and develop, and he's not even aware that he can print those photos and hang them up.  It's just the simple joy of taking a photo that drives him, and it absolutely inspires me beyond words!   

Here's the thing too, his images are actually getting better.  I mean WAY better.  This isn't me as his father speaking in praise to, “my son the artist,” this is me as a professional photographer speaking to the quality of imagery of another photographer.  His images aren't adhering to traditional rules, but they're still compelling glimpses into a photographer's world, and the haphazard method I feel very much adds an element of depth to the shot.  It's the unaware struggle of a six year old to overcome obstacles he doesn't understand.  It's the reflection of a mind who sees something worth capturing in a way I could never see it.  Most amazingly, he doesn't even show me the images, so I know it's all for his own satisfaction, not to please his photographer father.

It has become so deeply amazing to me in my core that I've actually found myself taking a very staunch attitude against instructing him in any way; I feel like to do so would be to confine his creativity, and might hinder his natural attitude towards exploring and testing.  It makes me wonder how much I stifle my own creativity by trying to achieve a technique, or adhere to a photographic rule.  When he takes a photo it's not a technically amazing masterpiece by any standard.    He just takes the shot, takes it in with his eyes, and revisits it with intrigue and joy from time to time. 

A little boy's Spider-Man digital Camera!

I can't help but be jealous. He doesn't spend hours regretting not using different equipment!  He doesn't hate himself for not grabbing a better angle, nor does he pine over an image in Photoshop to get it just right!  He does it for the purest reasons, and life hasn't taught him to be discontent about his work.  He either accepts it, or he adapts and accepts it, or he simply walks away and doesn't let it eat him alive.

I guess what I'm leading to in this post is that sometimes we just need to let our reservations go and do things the way that feels best in our photography.  It's a lesson I feel like I've come across again and again, that I need to focus less on the technical and focus more on what my passions are.  To that end I think that in many ways my children are more than just my best friends, it feels like they teach me just as much as I teach them.

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