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  • Skribentens bildSuzanne Axelsson

Why we document - part 5

Today I will look at taking photos...

I remember back in the nineties when I started working in preschools how we used cameras to document what we were doing and what the children were learning.

I can openly admit that back in those days there was a lot more focus on what we were doing, a kind of record of our activities to show the parents ... I feel like I have come a long way in the last 25 years.

I now use photography in many different ways... and I am so incredibly grateful for the digital camera. In the beginning there was such a process about taking photos - and the time and the cost of photography really did impact how you used the medium. Sometimes we invested in lots of film, so that we could go crazy and take lots of photographs - but always, when we went to collect the photographs from the developer (even that process was a thing... a special excursion with the children to pick up the photographs, and drop of the films to be developed) - always, when we went through the photos there were just so many that were not fit for use... they were out of focus, we had been too slow and missed the moment (but hadn't noticed, so did not take another shot) or all the children had their eyes closed, or at least half of them etc etc... These days we can just delete those kinds of photographs and retake... we also have a lot more chances to capture that moment... and we can instantly see if we did or whether we need to take a few more to capture that learning moment while the learning/play was still happening.

The fact that digital cameras are no longer the precious things that they once were also means that we can hand over the camera to the children and let them play and explore with this medium. It is easy to get your hands on old cheap second hand cameras that allow a different kind of freedom for children and the teachers who do not need to stress about an expensive piece of equipment maybe being dropped and broken - of course even the old camera should be treated with care and respect but that stress removal means there is so much more energy left for play and exploration.

I have handed my expensive camera over to children at times... and helped them with the process - but there is not the same freedom - plus it is so much heavier and bigger than small digital cameras.

I take photographs...

  • to catch moments of play, of learning and interest... so the children and I (and my colleagues) can focus on certain areas of this in various dialogues

  • to see how children develop - especially over time. How do they hold their pen, walk up stairs, jump, balance... images saved and compared with future images of the same thing... is there a natural development occurring, or do I see things that I need to consider extra measures for... for example is there development in certain areas, or no areas, or is a child losing skills and abilities that they have previously mastered? This will give me information to better plan lessons to suit the group and individual needs.

  • to record children's work. I no longer collect children's work in a folder which they take home at the end of the year or the end of their preschool experience... instead I take a photograph of the art, construction etc and either put that in a digital or analog file with a few reflections. This allows the child to take their creation home.

  • transient art. This can be taken by me or by the children. Using loose parts to create something they would like to save but are not able to because the materials are re-used. Taking a photograph helps this process... it is a way of keeping the art, or the construction

  • to purposely inspire the children. An event, nature, object, view etc - something that can start a conversation to inspire dialogue. In this way I have taken photographs of all the playspaces we visited so that the children could glue a copy into their log-books and add their reflections about why it was good, what they liked to do there, and the things they were not so keen on and why... this was a good way for the children to learn about what playspaces they enjoyed the most, since they chose together 3 times a week where we played - this was done by a process of explaining to each other why they should go to a certain play-space and convince others that this was a good space for a variety of reasons. OR, sometimes body-parts to put on the wall, to create a game - can they guess which ear belongs to which child

  • to better understand the children's thinking... by handing the camera over to the children and let them take photographs. This is a process, as just about every child loves pressing that button at first, and needs time to play with the camera and what it does to be able to then focus on taking photographs of things or happenings.

  • to notice things that I missed... sometimes photographs allow you to see things that you had missed... for example, your focus(with or without camera) is on 3-4 children nearby and their play... you take a few photos and then see some action in the background... it could be some other great play that was being missed, but now has been observed, or it might be that a child has made themselves invisible and you see them on camera - it is especially important with these invisible children to then think, how can I help them become more visible, and most importantly, why are they making themselves invisible? You might also notice in such photographs that you as an educator was noticing how the children were working mathematically, but the photos show other kinds of play too. Film is of course even better for this.

  • also to see if I see all the children. Do I take photos of some children more than others? Why?

This is not an exhaustive list... and I am sure that my reason for taking photographs will continue to increase as I learn more and more.

It is about finding balance.

Not to be behind the camera all the time so that it makes you inaccessible and more of a voyeur than an educator, but enough so that you have enough images to support your thinking and understanding. Does taking a photograph interfere with the children's play and learning? Or is it a part that is used by the children too? My children will ask me to take photographs of them when they feel proud of something they have achieved, or are aware that they have learned something new, or simply because it was so much fun they want to remember. Do the children give their consent. I will not take photographs of children that do not feel comfortable with their photograph being taken, but I do not tend to take photographs of the children... mostly of their learning... so close ups of their hands, feet etc in action or of the process (so a drawing at the start middle and end), so I seldom have children tell me they do not want to... because they are often as equally interested in what they are doing as I am.

There is also the part of selecting the photographs - which ones should be used... which ones tell stories... do the children select the same ones as you (that is always an interesting process) - and why do they choose a different one from you?

Which images go on the wall... are the children comfortable to see themselves on the wall... what kind of images do you share there... I have seen at some settings images of children that are sad on the wall... and I know they had not asked the child about whether it was OK to have that image there. There are few adults that like having an image of themselves not approved by themselves on a wall... especially if it does not show them favourably - I think we need to take the same consideration with children too...

I have shared this story before, but I will again... about how my son dislikes certain photographs of himself, because, even though the photograph is lovely, he knows that he was sad just before the photograph was taken, and this brings back bad memories for him.

I know my son is special in the sense he has autism/ADHD and makes him more sensitive to this kind of thing... but I am very sure that there are other children that maybe feel the same, but not strongly enough to stand up to an adult and say "I don't want that photograph there".

In the below image a child was given a camera to take photographs of the big construction... but this soon became the child's pre-occupation for the morning... take a photo, laugh with delight at the product, take another and another... laughing every time with delight.

At first the photos were random, and mostly about pressing the button, and learning not to put fingers over the lens. Then the child became aware of taking photographs of people and things... and then finally started to select things and arrange them to take photographs of. A half hour process... I am not sure how many images were taken as the camera ran out of batteries due to the intense use - but I am sure tomorrow I will find out.

Of course I have documented this process - these are a smalls election of the child taking the photographs and also taking turns (briefly) with a friend on several occasions. I took photographs of some of the objects the child took photographs of... and also of other things that was happening in the room... I did take one time-lapse film too of the whole room, to see what sort of movement was happening and how this photographer moved around. She took photos throughout the whole room, and also of the view outside the window. I learned there was a lot of joy, that the camera was quite easy to use to some extent, but tricky in other aspects - of course I cannot share all the images here online... as that is yet another aspect to consider... do we have the right to share images of children on the internet.

Here in Europe there are strict rules about it...

But I made the decision in 2013 never to share images of children's faces... except my own children, who I have spoken with and they are comfortable about the images I share and why i share them... and a few other children where parents have actively encouraged me not to blur out their child's face, as this was a way for them to communicate what their child was doing with the rest of their family far away in another country.

I think children's consent is important... I asked the child in question too, and she was very happy to have her photo shared... and I showed the child the photos beforehand so that if there was one that did not feel right I would not use it. That never occurred, I always got the thumbs up... not so the case at home.... some photos I have been asked not to use... and I have not, no matter how much I really wanted to.

I will share more posts about children and photography before the new year arrives.

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