A neutron walks into a bar. The neutron orders a drink, and asks the bartender how much. The bartender says, "For you, no charge."
Maybe this didn't make you laugh. Maybe you should open a science book and figure out what a neutron is. Maybe it just isn't that funny. But it made me laugh my ass off. We were hanging out years back and my friend Carrie busted out the set up as a quick reply to somebody bringing up telling science jokes. I didn't even know it was a real joke, I started laughing as soon as she said "neutron walks into a bar."
But, that's not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about what the bartender has to say, "For you, no charge." I don't know exactly what I want to do as a photographer, but let me be clear about what I don't want to do. I don't to be a family portrait photographer. I don't want to shoot small children. But most of all, I don't want to work for free.
This last Sunday I spent a few hours taking family portraits of mostly small children free of charge. I know, I just did everything I don't want to do and did it all at once, but I'm so glad I did. I had the chance to donate my time to help photograph foster children and families along with a Rotary Club event that had the kids visiting Santa to get gifts. Myself and a small group of photographers that I met through ASMP set up 4 different lighting and backdrop sets to shoot portraits of the kids while they waited in line. About 400 kids.
A bit about kids. Man do I hate kids. What with their amazement at the world and their cute faces, and how quick they are to like you, and how sweet they always seem to be. OK, maybe hate is not the correct term. It was easy to say I hated kids, until all of my friends started having them. Then when they get old enough to know that you're their parents friend, they start to like you. Then they greet you with a sweet little "Hi Nathan!" and your cold icy Grinch heart starts to thaw.
Alright, I don't hate kids. So I guess the reason I don't want to shoot small children is... fear. There. I said it. I'm afraid of kids. Maybe it's PTSD from the time i was watching my cousins kid at a family reunion and he decided it was a good time to get naked from the waist down and take a nice wiz at the beach and I realized how unprepared I am to deal with a child. Like when I was at lunch with my friend Lee Ann and her 1 year old Addison, when Lee Ann asked me to watch her kid while she used the restroom quickly I spent the next few minutes in terror! What if she (Addison) starts to cry? Why wouldn't she cry, she is sitting across the table from me! That scary looking biker with the 1,000 mile stare. And if she looks deep enough into my stare she will see the fear in my eyes.
So, I spent most of Sunday in fear. I would be as goofy as I can be (and we all know I can be pretty goofy), I would tell the little girls I was going to make them look like a beautiful princess, and the boys were going to be as cool as Spiderman or Batman. I would try my hardest in just a few minutes to get the kids comfortable and relaxed with me, and if they relaxed, then I would relax just a little bit. If they didn't relax, I could feel the slow boil of panic begin to set in. And it might not be 1 child. Taking a picture of a typical family you may see the ages of the children spread a bit, in many of the foster families you would see often 5 kids under the age of 4, and sadly many of the children have had traumatic experiences and may be wary of strangers.
But my biggest fear in photographing these kids was what if I didn't do a good job for them? All of the kids were adorable and sweet, and they deserved my best work. I may have been a bit limited in the amount of time I had with any particular group, but I was honestly more limited with my lack of group posing experience and experience working with small children than by the clock. Today, after my trial by fire, I can say I have a fair amount more experience working with children. Honestly, the pictures turned out good. I wish I had more time and experience with each of the families and could go from good to great, because those kids deserve it.
Wait a minute, I can't show you any of the pictures of the foster kids. In order to protect the children, the pictures are not for public use at all. Since you cannot see them, let me describe them better for you.... They are the single greatest collection of family and child photography ever taken. Technically and artistically flawless! With light that would make Avedon feel like a cheap hack photographer. I'd show you, but I can't. You're going to have to take my word on it.
But what I can show you is a quick shot taken by one of the kids (top of page). One of the older girls was still in line waiting for Santa as everything was winding down, and I gave her the opportunity to get payback as she got behind the camera and made us her uncomfortable subjects! Let me also offer a bit of proof that I can make the young girls look like princesses, especially when they show up dressed as princesses!
My next experience working with kids in the care of DHS should be a bit less scary. I'm working with Washington County DHS to shoot senior portraits of some of the kids in the foster program. Way less scary, there is a reason the movie was called Children of the Corn and not High School Seniors of the Corn, cause children are scary!
Also, I don't want people to think I'm unwilling to shoot family portraits. Don't let my fear of kids stop you, I'll bring along Anna to assist, she's a grizzled old vet when it comes to kid photography, like the Sergeant Barnes of family portraiture, she ain't scared!