Why I Use A Child And Baby Led Photography Approach
I am a Melbourne based family photographer who specialises in outdoor sessions in the beautiful Dandenong Ranges. From the outset I have used non-traditional way of relating to children I photograph. It means they don’t have to co-operate, sit still or smile.
I know, you think I’m crazy don’t you? But, you see I wasn’t always a photographer. For 15 years I served as a police officer. The last seven years of that time I was a detective working with child and adult victims of sexual, physical, emotional and mental abuse. Heavy stuff right. I have seen first hand what happens when children are groomed. When their voices are silenced. If they cannot be themselves. When they are taught to ignore their gut feelings and distrust their instincts. If they are told they must give affection and be polite.
As a trained investigator part of my job was to overcome this. I needed to give these children a voice and hold space for them to tell their stories, no matter how harrowing or confronting they were. It was important to allow them to do things on their terms, in a way that empowered them. I had to meet them where they were at, at that moment in time.
Experiences like this change you forever. You can’t forget the things you’ve seen. You can’t unhear these stories. When I was setting up my business I knew I wanted to take the lessons I’d learnt as a specialist detective with me. I coined the term child and baby led photography. But what on earth is that?
Early on I took the time to sit and write a “Child Empowerment and Wellbeing Statement”. I wanted to be a – albeit small – part of the solution and not part of the problem.
When my client’s choose to work with me I inform them that as a stranger I don’t expect their child to immediately warm to me or do what I ask. I tell them they never have to apologise for their child, their behaviour or what they may say. When I meet the family I take a moment to speak to the children and let them know that they can contribute ideas during the session. I say to them that they are allowed to say no to anything that is suggested that might make them uncomfortable or uneasy.
During sessions I give children choices and encourage them to have autonomy over their own bodies. If I feel the need to touch a child, such as to adjust their hair, I ask if I can or if they want to do it themselves. If they don’t want to give physical affection to someone I don’t make them. Instead, I adapt the session. If a parent tries to pressure, bribe or threaten a child who isn’t smiling, cuddling or looking at the camera I politely pull them aside. I let them know what they are doing doesn’t align with my methodology and to please let me do the job they have hired me to do. By taking time I can capture the child as their real selves, there on that day. I do this because I want them to be themselves, have a voice and feel empowered.
Whether you are a photographer or not, a business owner or not, a parent or not we can all adopt these practices. We can do it by not insisting a child kiss or hug a relative. Silently we can do it by not judging a parent in a public space who is allowing their child to feel and express their feelings. We can do it by not taking a child’s reaction to us personally. Every single one of us can do our part to enable children to trust their instincts and gut feelings by giving them the opportunity to express and be themselves. Will you be part of solution?