Monthly Archives: April 2015

Follow this unfolding essay on Instagram

My daughter turned two last month, and I have never taken a photograph of her. For the month of April, I’m going to explore why. What kind of parent would do that?

#whyidontphotographmykid #newbornfeet #tinyfeet #pdx #bornyoung

I want to take the standard of “beautiful” away from my daughter’s photographic image and give it to the growing toddler’s in-the-moment, complicated, contradictory self. That may be impossible, but I’d like to at least slow down the glut of photos of her every cute moment.

#whyidontphotographmykid #susansontag #photography #pdx #art #warpedstandardsforbeauty

Let me be clear: I am not putting down photography per se. (I’ll be using lots of photos in this series, including this photo of drawings.) I am saying our diet of images is so loaded with one food group—photography—that we’re forgetting the benefits of a balanced visual diet.

#whyidontphotographmykid #newbornsketches #newborn #baby #pdx #drawing

How to prepare my daughter to handle the impulse to equal or embody billions of seductive images? Perhaps showing her I care more about her than her image will help her navigate the smartphone culture into which she has been born—and the evermore photo-centered world she’s going to mature into.

#whyidontphotographmykid #pdx #raisingstrongwomen #johnberger #waysofseeing #beauty

When I tell people I’ve never taken a photo of my daughter, many seem to assume it’s evidence that I don’t care enough about her. On the contrary I think about her so much, and I’ve read enough about her mind/body development, that I’m convinced not taking photos of her is better for us both. Getting myself to mark big moments in other ways takes lots of attention and flexibility.

#whyidontphotographmykid #pdx #drawing #newborn #sketches #exhaustedmother #learninghowtonursethenewborn

Paglia is an art critic. She’s preaching here the value in slowing down and looking at images that challenge us. As parents we talk about what kind of example we demonstrate for our kids. I want to give the example of patient attention to my daughter. I want to teach her to attend to a room in ways that don’t involve posing for a camera.

#whyidontphotographmykid #pdx #camillepaglia #art #fineart #savethechildrenalittlebit

It began as a small vow: As a painter and new father, I would not take a photo of my daughter for her first year. Knowing others would take PLENTY of photos of her, I would take this precious opportunity to add my own image-making abilities to the mix of pictures. I’d let other people shoot the photos while I drew and looked for other ways to document my daughter’s early years. It became a habit.

#whyidontphotographmykid #baby #crawlingbaby #drawing #pdx #sketchthefamily

Cartier-Bresson knew how to balance his visual diet. He took some of the most famous photographs of the past century, and yet his book is not a wholesale celebration of the photo. It’s a look at what photography can—and cannot—accomplish. Drawing reminded him not just that all experience can’t be captured in a photo but that drawing makes us alert to our world in ways we miss when we point, shoot and move on.

#whyidontphotographmykid #thedecisivemoment #photography #drawing #pdx #meditation

As Henri Cartier-Bresson says in yesterday’s quote, there’s a difference between the photographer’s quick recognition of the moment and spending time in the moment, unfolding with it. Drawing and painting help us slow down and meditate on what’s now instead of flipping through to the next, and the next.

#whyidontphotographmykid #training #triathlete #pregnancy #triathlon #pdx #painting #oilpainting #bikingbeforethebabybirth

Painting is slow. It takes patience. My wife’s face shows her effort posing here. I believe inviting that kind of strain is good for a picture. The work itself between painter and model to slowly build one picture for weeks: we invest, concentrate together, navigate each other’s moods, and thereby make the picture more special.

#whyidontphotographmykid #triathlete #pregnancy #pregnantathlete #oilpainting #mothertobe #pdx #painting #strongwomen

This photo represents the only oil painting I’ve finished of my daughter so far. We have tried others, and abandoned them, which is what I do with many paintings. That trial and error, I think, is good for both daughter and papa.

#whyidontphotographmykid #painting #oilpainting #pdx #baby #infant #nursing #tirednewmother #sleepwhenyoucan

What was I thinking when I vowed not to photograph my daughter? When this started I was worried about inadvertently teaching her to mug for the camera, annoyed at the thought of the machine getting between me and her, and uncomfortable with the idea that my duty as a parent was to find a perfect photo moment instead of living in the moment.

#whyidontphotographmykid #sonogram #pdx #fetus #androgynoussoundpicture

You can imagine my wife’s unhappiness with my announcement that I didn’t want to photograph our newborn. She came up with imagined scenarios to show that there would be times when I would NEED to take Elcy’s photograph. How could I be so selfish? She wasn’t the only one who thought I was being ridiculous.

#whyidontphotographmykid #pdx #toddler #fingerpaint #handprints #babymarks #fingerprints

When our daughter was born, I was doing regular physical therapy to recover from shoulder surgery. A couple days after her birth I had a PT session, and the very nice therapists asked to see photos of her. I didn’t have any, and one PT asked, “What kind of father are you?” I stared back at her for a moment trying to find the most honest way to put it: “What kind of a father am I? One more interested in paying attention to my child than in showing other people I did.” I don’t know if that answer satisfied her, or if it satisfies anyone but me.

#whyidontphotographmykid #surgery #pdx #labrumrepair #stitches #physicaltherapy #igotinked

Surrounding the scars from my surgery, this tattoo preserves the actual touch of my wife and daughter. Whit started the process, holding her hand on my shoulder while the tattoo artist worked his way around her hand. Then we did my daughter. They’re meant to echo Paleolithic cave paintings, some of the oldest images of human touch we have, and I love that they took a long time, that they’re etched painfully into me.

#whyidontphotographmykid #tattoo #cavepaintings #paleo #portrait #pdx #alternativeportrait

I think Mitchell is saying we’re not rational when it comes to images. We believe pictures of people are echoes of real people, and they seem to have the power of the things they depict. We feel like the photo of mom brings mom into the room and acts a little like the real mom, comforting or judging us, depending. The movie moment of covering or turning the photo to avoid its gaze—that works because we feel as if photos can gaze. We give pictures power.

#whyidontphotographmykid #wjtmitchell #pdx #art #images #philosophy #whatdopictureswant

According to the Population Reference Bureau (, in 1850 the number of people who had ever lived was 92.6 billion. Since then only 13.8 billion have been born. Just think of all the people who lived (some of whom we still admire today) who loved and thrived without taking photos of anyone, including their children.

Niépce was only one of many gentlemen-scientists who were looking for a way to chemically fix the image of light through a lens in the early 1800’s. He developed his “heliographs” of the 1820s  independently of Louis Daguerre’s “daguerreotypes” and William Henry Fox Talbot’s “photogenic drawings” of the 1830s.

#whyidontphotographmykid #photography #photos #pdx #niepce #oldestphotograph #history #billionsandbillionsofpeoplewithoutcameras

Sontag wrote this in the mid-1970s, and it’s even more true today, and way beyond vacation. The cameras perpetually in our pockets burn with an invitation to document and upload not only every pleasurable moment, but also to alleviate boredom and shame those we want to push below us. I want to give other shapes to experience than stop-point-click-upload—or better yet, I want to let experience shape me.

#whyidontphotographmykid #susansontag #sontag #pdx #photography #work #vacation

Here’s a way to reshape experience, something many parents do. How far can we take this? How much can we decorate the door jambs and rearrange the other props of our lives to help us remember our children’s growth in a more immediate, intuitive way than photos can do?

#whyidontphotographmykid #pdx #growingchildren #parenting #toddlers #lovemarksonthewalls

Here’s another way to shape experience: We can trace experience and revel in the moment. These lines represent me and my daughter goofing around in a typical afternoon. She asked me to trace her hand, then her foot (she had shoes on). I love looking back here on how her hand moved because at age two she didn’t understand she had to hold her hand still the whole time I drew around it. Then she asked me to put my hand on the paper and she drew all over the thing without any apparent attempt to trace my hand. I look at this and remember like many do their photos.

#whyidontphotographmykid #pdx #hands #drawing #parenting #toddlers #drawwithyourkids

This quote comes from not just an expert in photos, but one whose life work is based in motion pictures. Errol Morris’s skepticism about photography and his wily use of it got someone off death row (see his film “The Thin Blue Line”) and yet he maintains strong doubts about the relationship between photos and what they depict.

#whyidontphotographmykid #pdx #parenting #photography #errolmorris #believingisseeing

If this is not a photo of my sister-in-law with her favorite singer, what is it? It’s a joke, of course. A fake. Is there a clear difference between fake photos and real ones?

#whyidontphotographmykid #michaeljackson #popicon #pdx #fake #pettingmichaeljackson

To feel a loss in not photographing your kid, I think you have to believe photos are a slice of the truth, that they at least partly capture and preserve the moments we share with our family. I don’t believe that. I believe photos lie as much as they depict truth. And in this quote Morris lays bare his own healthy doubt. Photos equal truth for you only if you believe they do. (By the way, Morris also hardly ever takes photos of his family.)

#whyidontphotographmykid #pdx #parenting #photography #errolmorris #believingisseeing

How crazy strong has Crossfit made my sister-in-law!? Framing matters—how we choose the picture one thing instead of another, how we crop our photos, how we choose the “best” picture on the camera and delete the others. I make pictures for a living, and I’m aware of what pictures cannot do. If you were on the scene, this lift wouldn’t look remotely real.

#whyidontphotographmykid #strongwoman #pdx #weekendantics #lift #crossfit #crossfitxfactor

She wasn’t pressing me overhead on a sunny afternoon—not that she hasn’t made serious strides at the gym. And we didn’t need Photoshop to fake yesterday’s photo. We just chose what deserved to be in the frame. Everyone does that every time we take a photo. We cut out context.

#whyidontphotographmykid #strongwoman #pdx #weekendantics #lift #crossfit #crossfitxfactor

Photographer Sally Mann, whose work I admire, knows as well as anyone that photos don’t capture people. As scandal swirled around her photos of her own naked children in the 1990s, she reminded viewers that photos are at best totems or icons that invite viewers to consider children or childhood in some way. All images are like this. If I were a photographer, I might be doing a project like Mann… but I’m not. I’m a painter. I’m doing my own project.

#whyidontphotographmykid #pdx #parenting #photography #sallymann #somewonderisitchildpornography

Anthropologists make huge efforts to record and preserve rare languages because embedded in each language are unique ways to make sense of the world. The same can be said for modes of imagery. I quoted Susan Sontag at the beginning of the month, on how photography has become our standard for what’s beautiful. Let’s allow our aesthetic standards to broaden beyond the tiny realm of the photogenic. Preserve difference!

#whyidontphotographmykid #pdx #keepportlandweird #parenting #art #photography

I carry these scribbles by my kid around with me like other parents carry photos. I let my daughter draw here and there in my many notebooks for work, and I like to run across those scribbles when looking back at sketches of ideas for paintings or notes about the business. These moments of pure mark making fill me with cheer and questions. Where will it lead? What will she draw next?

#whyidontphotographmykid #pdx #drawing #parenting #kids #toddlerscribbles #toddlers

#whyidontphotographmykid #pdx #parenting #photography #art