The first time I photographed my daughter Jess was about twelve hours after she was born. The nurse brought her to me in my hospital room, she was wailing with what I later figured out was hunger. I laid her on the slice of light falling on the bed and took a few pictures. She had beautiful eyebrows, wide open eyes and she quit crying right away, looking at me steadily while I made a few exposures. The image from that morning became the start of the Kid Pictures: photographs of Jess as she grew up. I thought all these years that the Kid Pictures were about Jess but lately I have realized that they also are about me as I remembered/relived my childhood. Looking at the Kid Pictures, the viewer might infer that Jess was an unhappy and depressed child. In fact, that child was me not Jess. The images I made of her were dark and painful: how I felt about my past at that time. I don’t think Jess ever thought the photographs were real documents of her life, even when she posed with chicken pox all over her body: we made the images consciously thinking bad; willing to extend ourselves into what we believed was the fictional world of the photograph.
Since a photographic record of my childhood (except for the awkward, posed family shots) does not exist, I have often thought about how it would look in pictures. If I could go back and recapture my past what images would I take? Probably not the bad and sad moments; maybe the sun when it sank behind the mountains, huge and snowcapped, or the wind as it tore through the neighbor’s orchard, or the old apple tree where I perched high up in the branches to read. That is how I see it now. Did I have to raise a child to come to terms with my own childhood? Maybe. Did I have to take dark, solemn photographs of her to meet the past head on? Probably. Thank goodness for photography which gave me an entry into my subconscious memory. And thank goodness for Jess and the other kids who were willing to pose for me. Maybe it was a relief to them not to have to be cute kids for a picture. Maybe it actually was how they felt at the moment. But really, what kind of accurate record is photography anyway?
Still, it is Jess who is the subject of the Kid Pictures. I can only hope that she remains as enthusiastic now about the images as she was when she was a kid. I used to say that the Kid Pictures were about a lot of different kids. In fact, I did photograph six or seven other kids over the years as well. The images of them are of the same ilk. Perhaps we can look at the images of all the kids as simply a wide assortment of stories told by a photographer and her models, intrepreted by the viewer, supported by the arrangement of light and subject in the frame just like every other image. As the photographer, my intent is/was not important . But at the time, I was trying to make a “serious” portrait of the kids, especially my daughter, not the Hallmarky phony photographs of an imagined childhood. The irony is that the Kid Pictures have turned out to be a different type of reality, fictional perhaps but still based in the idea of light hitting a subject and reflecting back onto film. Still based on the fact that my daughter was posing for the camera, honing her acting skills, but mustering up real emotions.
To see more of the Kid Picture Portfolio, go to: http://www.janetneuhauser.com/kid-pictures/