Advocacy, Childhood, Documentation, Parenting, Pedagogy

The Photo Generation



These are my three-year-old’s sparkly shoes. They are her new favourite shoes – a $2 find at the local op-shop. She likes to photograph them (a lot – if my phones camera roll is anything to go by!) In fact – she likes to photograph a lot of things. Her dolls, her sister, herself (a LOT), the sky, the ground, food (I can just see her launching her own Instagram account soon – “today’s plate of food that I may or may not turn my nose up at”.)

  

In all seriousness though, she is showing a lot of interest in taking photographs. Perhaps it could be suggested that this is a result of my own passion for photography. She sees me with my camera around my neck all the time and wants to emulate that. But I think it is more than that, because she is not alone. 

It hasn’t always been this way
I can remember cameras from my childhood. They started out as Polaroids and then moved onto film cameras. I can remember mum taking snapshots on special occasions – birthdays, trips to the zoo, Christmas,  sports events, as well as the occasional “playing at home” shots for good measure. She’d then traipse off to the local chemist when the end of the roll was reached and drop it off for developing. A few days later we would collect our photographs and open the packet eagerly, wondering how many would be blurred or have a head “chopped off” (note – Mum is not a bad photographer, just the nature of this medium!!). 

As kids, we didn’t play with cameras. There was usually one camera in a household and the film was expensive and the prints were expensive – you couldn’t just delete a bad shot! 

The Photo Generation
Our propensity to take photographs has dramatically increased with the introduction of digital cameras. We can take 100 shots, delete the ones we don’t like, print the ones we do or share them to social media. We can play around with the images once we have taken them. We can even play around with them as we are taking them, using various apps (for phones) or camera features. Most households and early childhood services, have multiple cameras – perhaps an actual “camera”, and then often several phones or tablets that feature high quality cameras. Often there are cameras made specifically available to children. 

As a society, we are perhaps becoming more “photo happy” then ever before. Have you been to a concert lately? So many people recording and watching from behind their phones! We capture every moment – the good, the bad and … well, do we capture the bad? And what is our purpose for capturing? (that’s actually a blog post in itself… stay tuned!) 

What effect is this having on children? 
Watching my three-year-old take selfies is pretty amusing. So many “up the nose” shots and funny faces and tongue-poking-out. Recently watching a thirteen-year-old take selfies made me uncomfortable. The funny faces are replaced by a duck face pout, the adding of unicorn horns and puppy dog ears with apps is replaced by a filter designed to smooth the complexion and make you “prettier.” 

While I see my three-year-old’s selfie taking as harmless, I do worry about the long term “normalisation” of worrying about what we look like in a photo, about trying to get the “perfect shot”. But that’s not just teens and selfies. As adults (particularly women) we can often be heard saying things like:
” I take a horrible photo”
” My skin looks awful”
” I have a double chin in that photo” 

Moving Beyond Selfies
I am not going to deny having taken a selfie. As I recall, Tash and I took a selfie on a beach in Perth, long before we had camera phones and before they were even called “selfies” (yes – we are that OLD).

There is nothing wrong with children taking photographs of themselves – in fact, it could even contribute to a positive sense of self and may be a great way to connect with peers.

What I would like to see more of (in children AND ADULTS!) is using photographs as a way of capturing what you see, what is special or important to you (like the sparkly silver shoes!) 

Do children use cameras in your setting? Selfies? Capturing the moment… we’d love to hear your thoughts!

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Nicole Halton

Nicole Halton is the co-founder of Inspired EC. She is the author of several early childhood books, an advocate for children's rights and a mum to three.