Framing Childhood

Has the curating of digital photos come to define modern parenting?

Comments: 28

  1. I spent the morning framing and hanging pictures of my kids. Very timely and insightful article. My favorite part? Publicly stating the link between animated confetti and class affiliation.

  2. It's so true! I'm just back from vacation in a resort where every family had at least one camera and they all seemed to be in use all the time. A family all dressed in pink asked me to take their photo on the beach against the orange-pink setting sun. A bald man balanced his bald baby son in the pool while his wife captured the scene. And another camera bug walked into a room, took 6 photos in all directions and left. Did he see the room? Will he be able to identify it when he gets home? Which is more real, the room or the photos?
    I came home with 747 photos, but my children and grandchildren weren't there for me to capture their smiles, their mugging, their "don't bother me" frowns. I missed them.

  3. Max! 747 photos? Not all of the Boeing, I hope! I also pray that you narrowed your selection of "photos to foist upon friends and relatives" to, say, 10. Or, better, five. OK, recently I Snapfished the best 20 on-line for my own portfolio, but, I'm a better photographer than you.

  4. Guilty as charged! In fact, our family has so much material online, our kids' websites are far more comprehensive as "baby albums" than the paper kind (which we also have - phew!).

    I contacted Shutterfly to see if I could save these data-rich pages to my hard drive, and not surprisingly, the answer is no. So while we have hard copies of the website elements (movies, pix etc.), the creative context that knits the pieces of my childrens' babyhood together (the website) is Shutterfly's proprietary content.

    We started the websites in 2007, when our son was born, thinking Shutterfly's online photo storage would be a temporary solution -- surely there would be something better by now? Yet today we are firmly cemented to Shutterfly's (buggy) system, as the transition time to another system far outweighs the already excessive cost to curate all this data.

    Unchain us!

  5. My mother was born in 1928 and lived less than 25 miles from her grandparents, aunts & uncles and cousins. When she was adult, she married and still lived within 25 miles of her relatives but adding to them her 5 siblings and their spouses and children. This remained the norm for her and many of her generation until the 50's when the American norm became one of moving to improve one's employment opportunities. Now the distances between family members are even further. I for example, live in France. My children live in SC, KY, CA, the same places my grandchildren live. Not one of my grandchildren know their cousin but I use to play with some of my cousins on Sunday afternoons. My son's wife takes and posts hundreds of photos of my grandchildren for all of their extended family to view. My daughter who is mother to 5 step children does not. What has ended up happening is I am very invested into the my son's family and I feel I know my grandchildren there, even though I have never met my grandson. But for my daughter who is older and who has been a parent 8 years longer, I have no such investment. I have no idea what those kids look like, what their interests are, what they are planning. When I received a graduation notice from one granddaughter I was surprised that she had reached the age to graduate. I met her when she was 8 and never saw a photo of her. Although my daughter has kept me informed of the children's activities and scholastic achievements it means little, apparently. I just haven't been able to connect the girl in the photos I took with my own camera to the one photo I received of her in a cap and gown with the invitation. I suppose she must feel much the same way as I sent a check for $250. and have yet, 18 months later, to hear that she appreciated it.

    I think about this quite often now; the multitude of photos as opposed to a handful of dated photos over a decade old. We are visual creatures. In my mind, everything I heard about my college attending granddaughter was happening to the 8-year old girl in the photos I have. I wouldn't know her if she sat beside me on the subway now and I probably wouldn't pay her anymore attention than if you, the reader, were sitting next to me. Yet I would recognize my grandson whom I have never met in a crowded subway station.

    So, as a person who lives far away from from other members of her family, I say to all of you parents who are keeping family values alive via hundreds of photos posted on some where on the net... THANK YOU! and THANK YOU AGAIN!!!!

  6. All the chemicals and silver are gone from the photo processing. It is no longer a chore. Anyone can and everyone does take pictures.
    No longer will shoe boxes be commandeered to hold the images of real or imagined cousins, whose names someone knows (maybe its aunt Marry). With each generation since the Lumeire's invented pictures the untitled unedited boxes have been disposed of by guilty descendants, but no more. Now they will be deleted, or more horribly by technology creep. I mean as formats change from CD to DVD to Blueray to who knows what. Have you converted all those home movies to digital yet. The question is who cares. Photos are dead within minutes of viewing. Only the rare photo gets printed, and of those few perhaps one in a thousand gets framed.
    Now Shutterfly and other online shoeboxes are stuck with pictures of Jimmy sticking his tongue out in the wedding photo and all other unknown faces, blurry and under exposed snapshots. They will soon die of lack of attention as members are scraped off the rolls for not paying that hidden cost.
    Print out the ones you like delete the rest. Scrapbook the birthday forget about the rest. This is after all the most photographed generation.

  7. Understandably, Heffernan does not address babies framing their own childhoods. But in this youtube video, a baby does just that: cognizant of its own image, uncannily able to edit its own movie. You have to see it to believe it...

  8. "We form families in the Internet age so we can produce, distribute and display digital photos of ourselves." Oh, come on. That is just plain silly, as anyone who thinks about it for five seconds will see.

  9. I find all this documenting of children's lives so tiresome, in the same way that I find fussing over children's hair and clothes so tiresome.

    I think that shutterbug parents run the risk of raising self-conscious kids who are afraid to take risks, lest they not look camera-ready at any given time. Also, there's a big risk in raising emotionally-challenged kids, who derive less pleasure from events and experiences that they can't go back and visually revisit.

    For pretty much everything, that which is rare is more valuable. I treasure the 20-year-old photo of me on my first day of kindergarten. It's the only first-day picture of myself that was ever taken. But with 1000s of digital photos of any given child these days, each that can be infinitely copied, what makes any one of them special?

    It's weird to see pre-verbal babies -- similar to the one in the article -- who have already developed an acute sense of what a camera is and how they're supposed to interact with one.

    When people ask me if I have pictures of my daughter in my wallet, on my keychain, in a digital picture frame at work, I always smile and say, "No, I just don't love her that much, I guess." To their credit, no one has ever believed this is true!

  10. I was going to write something much akin to Susannah's comment (#5). Although I agree with the observations made in the article (and also appreciated the class-confetti insight), I left it feeling a bit defensive. We have no family within hundreds of miles, and most of our friends are also in other states and countries. Watching their kids grow up, and sharing pictures of my own, has brought me closer to some of these people than I was for most of my life. So, yes, it's worth being cautioned about the obsessiveness, and it's worth thinking hard about the ways these new imaging technologies are changing our aesthetics and relationships. But (hear that "but"?) I am so grateful to have my camera, computer, and social-networking site...

  11. Photography is like music, it enriches our lives. In fact it's better than music because it has the power to help preserve a memory, and share our world with others.

    So no it's not a necessity, and you need to be able to afford the tools. But I hardly think it makes sense to portray it as a symbol of our self obsessed vapidity.

  12. We put a lot of pictures online for the same reasons Susannah (#5) mentioned. We live thousands of miles from my mom, and for us, Skype, Facebook and Flickr are the ways our family keeps in touch with our kids. I respect their need to stay connected. Of course if we could all have Sunday dinners together, and drop them off several times a month for babysitting, that would be preferable.

    But this is a different time and I'm so glad we have cameras.

  13. This article is a bit cynical, and I'm not sure what the writer's target is, exactly. And with Susannah #5, I'm very grateful to my family for posting photos of nieces and nephews whom I see only once or twice a year. With its camera, Skype is infinitely better than the telephone. A picture is worth a thousand words, digital or printed. We do still love our photo albums, but they come to life for others when I can scan them and share them!

  14. Wow Virginia, I am cynical but it takes a real olympic gold medal winner to be this cynical. Clearly you have no children because you cannot understand the need to want to document their lives - 'who for' you ask? Well, for a start, for them (my god I would love to have had some more pictures of my childhood - the pictures my husband took of me when my children were born; clutching their tiny bodies looking tired but so proud, they will know exactly from that image how wanted they were), for me to remember the different stages and for relations overseas. This is writing for the sake of filling a page because when you read the article online what was the accompanying advert? (because, I don't want to be cynical here but the adverts keep you in a job) 'Stunning Photos in 90mins
    Incredible Pro-Photo Techniques Guaranteed. Get Trailer Now!'. I'm just off to take some more photos - will I never learn?.

  15. "All the chemicals and silver are gone from the photo processing. It is no longer a chore."
    This is a sad and unfounded treatise on one of America's greatest pasttimes.

  16. Shutterfly and the data-rich pages can be added to a hard drive but the poster who said this is proprietary content is correct. As the new generation of technology becomes available, the user will have more personal access to family photos, data content, etc. but it may require owning additional software as the primary interface.

  17. @Comment #14, please reread the piece as the author clearly states that she too is a *victim* of taking ridiculous numbers of photos of her child. I do believe there's quite a bit of tongue-in-cheek going on, but you can interpret that as cynicism if you like. I look at it as an accurate, if humorous, reflection of what really goes on! And then I chastise myself for being too lazy to print more pictures of our child.

  18. An interesting article. However, the collecting of digital photos begins before birth for more and more famiies. Many parents are given photos copied during ultrasound scans of their baby; take photos of the ultrasound monitor; or capture pictures from dvd's of the ultrasound scan. Then these images are collected in baby albums, posted on blogs, websites, etc. Its a mystery to think of how children think about themselves as they grow, with 'these' kind of images; including (with new ultraosund technology called "4D" - which can show baby's faces, fingers in detail, etc.) will effect how children are thinking (and imagining 'image'ining) about themselves.

  19. Two friends meet - one of them with grandson in tow. "What a sweet child!", says the other guy.
    "This is nothing - you should see his pictures." replies proud grandpa.'
    This joke predates the internet by a few good years, but it says it all, no?!

  20. What a silly article.

  21. If you are saving the photos for your children you may be surprised to find out (as I was) that when they get older they do not want them.
    But all of this is kid's stuff (pun intended) compared to the photos young people take for their Facebook pages. I live near the beach and it is actually quite humorous to watch as they contrive poses to show how much fun they are and how much fun they are having.
    I have seen numerous young girls come to the beach, take their crazy photos, and then leave.
    It is almost like they are trying to document everything in their lives. HMMMM, I wonder where they got that idea from?

  22. Comments #9 and #14 - Thanks be to God that we are all different. Thanks be to God that we all go through different experiences in life; some happier than others. To each, there is a reaction and a purpose although the future no one knows.

    Parents who document and evidence their children's paths of life sometimes have no reason nor knowledge of what they are doing, except probably just living moments of life.

    I thank God for whatever moment or reason to live. Especially now that one of my sons was suddenly killed in an airplane crash, I praise each second taken to grasp X episode of his growth and accomplishments. Now, when hundreds of friends, colleagues and family living far from us flew or drove in to send him off with applauses during his Celebration of Life ceremony, all were able to see themselves in many of the photos...always smiling with every step of his short (42) life.

    How would they be able -especially his eight year old son- to realize how important his short path in life meant if it would have not been because of his mother took time to keep memories of steps and accomplishments taken by her two boys. Time to make two different albums of photographs *there was no digitalism then* for each to take when the time came to go and meet their life's future. To remind them of how special -good or not- past life had been and for their children to better understand their fathers when the time came.

    This was one her moments of truth. The new digital technology made it possible to record years in one small little record called CD for the loving crowd present. All were touched when they saw how many happy moments shared before his early departure and how important it was to be part of a community practicing voluntarism, philanthropy and commitment to non-profit organizations; not minding how difficult critical financial times we all live now.

    Photography, the old fashion way and the new digital experience will always mark history. History is made by all of us in each moment of life. New digital experience makes us more intrepid in multiplying efforts, however it is as easy to take a photograph as to delete it before it makes more harm to our planet Earth. No chemicals are involved in the development process, although there is energy used.

    It depends on each person to determine how and where to display personal life. I am so very glad to have kept a record of my boys´ lives and to be able to share it through photographs with new friends who never thought how the life of a man, practically new to this town, could have such a positive effect on their lives. All comments after were on how their lives changed and the spirit they would take their own by committing themselves more and doing it with a “smile”.

    His eight-year old son was smiling through it all. He still smiles! Am still taking photos (now digital) from my older son and the two little ones making new history.

    Each person has his story. Each photograph has its own!

  23. Interesting that the author says "The marching orders come immediately, with the newborn photo, which must be e-mailed to friends before a baby has left the maternity ward." For at least some parents, the marching orders come even earlier, with ultrasound images posted to Facebook or Flickr.

  24. The body and facial changes in us from birth until adulthood is incredible. What I would like to express is how important it is for children to have all their pictures in one place so they can see how amorphous their human face really is.

    I believe the American Medical Association once commissioned portrait photographers to try to capture the genetic migrations that exist in families. What they did was print two pictures as benchmarks. Then they cut one picture in half and printed another picture with the negative in the enlarger upside down... so there was a mirror image printed. They cut the mirror image in half - like the first picture and joined the mirror images with the opposite side non-mirror image. In some extreme cases they were able to assemble clear images of that persons mother and father. We indeed have very plastic faces. I wonder what they could have produced by doing the same thing on baby pictures. There's much more to us than meets the eye.

  25. It actually starts with the Ultrasound pictures. I've been shown many in the last several years (one was even on a baby shower invitation!) and I am always at a loss for words. I wonder what I'm supposed to say! The images don't even look like a baby in most of them, the features are definitely not visible unless it is one of the new 4-D images. Keep them in the baby album, but don't show them to me!

    I will say that I wish I had more pictures of my own kids, who are now in their 30s and 40s. Maybe not as many as we take now, but a few more would have been nice!

  26. Digital photography + the Web, bringing non-stop narcissism to all. Training starts shortly after the umbilical is tied off.

    Inflated, synthetic self-esteem and righteous sense of entitlement to follow.

    Self-absorption erases self-awareness and replaces religion and MPEG music as the bew opiate of the masses.

    "Get a life" means experience it, folks, not document it 24/7.

  27. While I agree with everything Ms. Heffernan wrote, her article also underlines my increasing belief that Americans are wrapping themselves in illusions. My father photographed me when I was less than 24 hours old at St. Joseph's Hospital in Houston, in 1945, with a Speed Graphic, in black-and-white. The negative still exists in his files, because he was a very careful guardian of all his thousands of negatives accumulated during his lifetime. His children grew up being photographed and, in turn, taking pictures. But we used film and I think the film process allows both photographer and subject(s) to keep a separation between the world around them and the images. With digital, it's all NOW!!!! RIGHT THIS VERY MINUTE!!!!, followed by massive distribution. Photoshop allows a manipulation that maintains illusion (even amplifies it) and other software allows for precise geographic location, and the only reason I've found for all this is that it makes a handful of companies very rich while feeding the illusion that everyone is a movie star worthy of utter fascination. The US of today is becoming unrecognizable to me.
    P.S. And just for the record, I do fine art photography, using black-and-white film and a Mamiya TLR. I love my images, but I just don't feel I have to bombard the world with them.

  28. As we were ushered to our table at a nice local Retaurant we frequent a couple times a month...laughing and visiting with the hostess on the way to our table my sweetie and I both got very angry, stern look from a daddy and mommy sitting close by with 3 young children... we'd never seen them before, and figured it was our imagination...stressed out parents maybe? It seemed odd but we were having to much fun to try to figure it out really...we noticed that the parents were filming their meal...the whole meal...they had probably a 6, 3 and 1 year old and the kids were well behaved and cute. We enjoyed ourselves and altho we had a jolly time we were not loud. Soon the family left and later when we left we mentioned to our hostess the family filming the entire meal...she said she had noticed also and they had asked her numerous times to ask other diners to "keep it down" so the recording would not be of all the other diners in the place! but only their family! I don't know about you but when we go out we enjoy the entire process and environment...which some times means we laugh and talk...with each other the staff and possibly even other guests...Is it just me or should the mom and dad and kids...just stayed home and enjoyed the peace and quiet! Leave the camera home and enjoy experiencing the moment...