Photographing other people’s children is what I do a lot of the time. It has unfortunately become increasingly sensitive. Whilst we are all taking more photos than ever before, and many parents post images of their children publicly on social media, parents have become increasingly concerned and protective of their childs image. Many are happy to post their own photos of their children, whist I am being treated with a great deal of suspicion for even asking permission to photograph a child.
I know some parents who do not wish to publish even a single photograph of their child online. At the same time I see many photographs online that I think infringe children’s privacy (I don’t mean nude photos here, I mean photos of things children have done in secret – notes they have written and some moments that have happened behind closed doors – not in public, that I personally would not broadcast).
My own perimeters of posting photographs of my daughter online, sit somewhere in the middle of these two viewpoints. If you don’t include photographs of children online you are automatically self censoring. I am happy to post photos of my daughter online, but some moments that happen in private, I consider unsuitable for public consumption. Some moments are too precious to be made so public.
Photographing children in the street is becoming particularly difficult. Many photographers simply avoid photographing children, as editors/publishers are concerned with having a model release form. This is not a necessity, but companies especially want that security. I usually stop the parent and child to ask permission, but sometimes you want to record the natural flow of human behaviour, without you and your camera altering it. It’s not always possible to seek permission. When I do ask permission, I give out my card and explain what I am doing. I am increasingly greeted with suspicion and hostility, when I am only taking photographs. I understand parents are protecting their child’s image and I do all I can to be open, honest and ease people’s concerns. But do we really need to treat photographers with such suspicion? I think it’s an unnecessary anxiety.
I experience this anxiety from the children themselves. It used to be the easiest photo to take – a picture of a child out playing. Twenty years ago, when I was at college children were willing participants, keen to show off in front of the camera. Now, I would think very carefully about approaching a child out without his/her parent. It could cause too much anxiety for both parent and child. When I have asked permission from children out on their own they have told me “no, I don’t know you”. On one occasion adult passersby heard our conversation and congratulated the children on their stance. I was made to feel like the child catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. It is a great shame that a person whom you don’t know, who bothers to ask your permission to take a photograph evokes such anxiety in young people and their parents.
More photographs of children are being taken by parents, which will in the future, provide a valuable insight into family life. However a whole genre of photographs, of children out playing – I fear is disappearing. The photographs taken by the likes of Oscar Marzaroli and the numerous photographers of The Hulton Picture Library for example, could just not be taken today. What the professional can bring to this subject is being underrated and unfortunately may be lost.