If you give a kid a camera…

Kristina’s mom got Merlin a very basic and kid friendly digital camera for Christmas. 

Cyd, Xarles and cheeseburger, christmas morning 2023. The timestamp is totally inaccurate but lends the composition a vintage aesthetic.

This might be one of the coolest things to give to a three or four year old–they have no sense of visual composition or what is important in an image and take absolutely unhinged photographs. 

For example, he spent a while on Christmas morning taking photographs of feet.


Many of the photos are subtly terrifying, because they lack the construction we associate with an intentional composition.  Take, for example, these found footage horrors:

Merlin has recently developed a fear of the dark and we knew it was coming and have tried a number of different ways to tackle the problem–current best solution is “giving up” and just turning the light off in his room after he falls asleep.  What does your room look like in the dark?  Merlin took several photos one night and I get where he’s coming from.

Is this what Merlin sees?  Are these photos what he intended?  When we take photos are we ourselves capturing what we see? Or are we intentionally curating a depiction of reality according to formal rules for image composition we have learned, intuited or guessed at?  

Only in writing the above paragraph does it occur to me to ask him to describe the story of these photos.

He does understand the selfie and the portrait, from having seen adults (namely Kristina and I) perform those actions.  Which: Perform is such a good verb for creatures who learn via mimesis (i.e. humans).  I had the realization that we perform faces, all day, every day.  The face we wear when it is not at complete rest is a performance, something we have unconsciously tuned via social cues/feedback into a set of expressions and mobilizations that convey a sense of what we hope to be.  Messed up!

The primordial selfie.

Portraiture is also interesting–traditionally portraiture contained an entire universe within the frame, a dense language of posture and symbol that conveyed rich social context about the sitter, their station in life, their ethics and beliefs, their aspirational sense of self.  As consumers (of painted portraiture) we have lost much of the ability to parse that language, at least consciously, and as producers (of photographic portraiture) we convey significantly less-rich information, often producing a contextless image of someone ambushed with a camera.  We erode the person.  (which: excellent Noothgrush album titled Erode the Person.  Give it a listen).

What extra information does this portrait convey?
I feel like this image does convey a decent sense of place. Also I am a very slow eater so I am usually last at the dinner table.

Why do we photograph?  To commemorate but mostly to communicate–most of the photos on my phone were taken explicitly to send to someone with a pithy caption–is this useful or advisable? Am I attempting to share the context of my own life or am I, in converting experience into content, avoiding the experience of my own life?  Kristina was on a meditation retreat recently and didn’t have her phone so I couldn’t text her.  It really made me realize how many thoughts come up throughout the day structured as content for her–I found myself reaching to take a photo or type up a thought and realized the thought arose as part of an impulse to communicate rather than as a reaction or observation to whatever was happening.  Curious!

SLIGHTLY UNSETTLING to find a photograph of yourself asleep on the memory card to your toddler’s camera. Turnabout is fair play, though, I have taken many photos of a sleeping Merlin.

I try not to prompt Merlin to take photos as to take a photo is to separate yourself from the experienced moment, but I am glad he has the ability to capture images if he feels like it.  He packed his camera when we went to Oklahoma recently and then didn’t take any pictures with is.  It will be interesting to see how his visual idiom develops as he consumes more media.