August 29, 2009

The Doll and the Experience

When I was small, it was a pretty regular thing for a photographer to come to the house and do children's portraits. We didn't use the same photographer every time, but they came, set up, we got dressed up in our party clothes and we smiled for the camera, usually on a tripod, we sat in a chair and that was it - we were re-arranged and told to kiss each other or some other silly thing that would make my mother buy all the photographs unless they were really bad. One series my brother and I were supposed to kiss and he pulled away - to four year old boys, 5 year old big sisters had cooties. I vividly remember these photography sessions as being fairly boring, especially when they were doing the individual pictures.

One of the photographers thought I needed a doll to hold. He went to my room and picked the biggest doll. I remember the brown and orange dress with the Peter Pan white collar typical of 1960 fashion and the full gathered skirt. The doll had curly orange red hair and was hard plastic. He put the doll in my arms and snapped a few and it was over.

Today, I have a shelf of framed images from several of these photo sessions. Most of the photos were in black and white, although you could have shot with color then. Frequently, the photography studio would paint over the photo in color - my mother had a 16x20 on the wall that was framed. My sister has that photograph. It was in the hall way with all the school photos on the wall. 

Anyway, back to the doll. That doll was in good shape as far as little girl dollies go. I never liked that one so she didn't get played with often. Actually, my little sister was more often pushed down the street in the stroller and dressed up to play with than any of my dolls. I had a bunch of dolls but preferred to read a book or listen to music or ride my bike.  When I see that photo, what I think of was that he picked the only doll I didn't like and never played with it. I hated that doll.

When I photograph kids, I think of those boring sessions. We didn't interact with the photographer. He told us what to do with Mom looking on and then dismissed us. A month later, they came back with proofs, Mom picked her choices and products and that was it.

When I photograph either children or adults, I want the session to be memorable. A real experience. I spend time getting to know the kids. We talk...sometimes they don't answer, but I engage them. We might need more than 20 seconds for that. Maybe half an hour. I have toys - maybe we blow bubbles! Or play ball, Or look at toy bugs. One session we went to the garden and the kids found real snails. That was their world. If I am at their house, I ask to see their toys and I have them tell me which one they like best. I don't want them to remember that 40 years ago that I went to their room and made them take a photograph with their least favorite thing.  I want them to remember that I cared about them, made them feel happy and I hope they remember the session as a fun experience to re-live when they are my age.

My wish for all my children's,  family and portrait sessions - they should always be a fun and happy experience. No ugly, orange haired dolls allowed.

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