When we were on vacation this summer, my cousin went into premature labor with her third baby. It had been a difficult pregnancy, which ended in a challenging labor, and I felt awful that I wasn’t there to help her through it.
My older daughter overheard me telling my husband how bad I felt that we were away — and how much I was looking forward to meeting the newest member of our extended family — and told me she had an idea for something we could do to welcome her brand new baby cousin.
Her idea was to take pictures (of everything) so we could show the baby what his new life would be like. I had never let her use our camera before — I’d already broken it myself and trusted her five-year-old fingers even less than my own– but her offer was too endearing for me to resist. So I handed it over and off she went, recording her world as she saw it.
My daughter kept up her photography project after we got home, and I had the best of intentions to upload and make prints of her pictures so we could give them to my cousin for her son. But the last few busy weeks of summer led us into the even busier weeks of a new school year and I kept putting that project to the side. It wasn’t until just a few days ago that I finally had a chance to sit down and really look at the images my girl had recorded.
I may be viewing the through the lens of motherly pride, but as I went through my daughter’s pictures, I grew increasingly more impressed by what I was seeing. That’s not to say that her pictures are masterpieces of composition — we’re not raising a young Ansel Adams here. But they are expressive photos, and they reminded me of how different the world is for us when we are small — they reminded me of the way we see things before others start telling us what to look for.
My daughter took pictures of shadows. She took pictures of feet — the toes of her own shoes pointing toward the toes of her father’s. She took pictures of her sister, capturing her silliness, zooming in on the curve of her chin, highlighting the brilliance of her blue eyes. She took pictures of the texture of the clothes she was wearing, of the wrought iron of a patio table, of her own reflection in the side of our car. At dinner one night, she photographed the family sitting around her, the items on the table, and the room we were in from the perspective of someone who is just over three feet tall. (And for the record, ALL adults, when photographed from below, have double chins. It is a law of physics.) She indulged enthusiastically in the art of the selfie, experimenting in expressions and recording them at arm’s length.
May daughter’s pictures were in distinct contrast to my own, which were dedicated to recording the moments I wanted to remember — not so much for the way they really happened, but so that I could string them together and present them in beautiful color to my future self. My pictures were a collection of the images I wanted myself — and others — to see about the life we are living. They said things like, “the beach is fun!” Or, “Look! We saw dolphins! Aren’t we cool?!” Or, “My kids are beautiful and smile a lot and this life we are living is really awesome.” They are, and they do, and it is, but I have profited more from looking at things from my daughter’s perspective than I have from trying — often in vain — to capture and preserve the best moments of my life.
My daughter’s pictures are simple. They are entirely without artifice or intent. They are just a reflection of a child’s world, recorded by one child for another. There is no need for embellishment because the world to a five-year-old is magical enough without it.
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