A fairy tale invention

I started reading again about the development of photography in its’ early years. Not so much for historical purposes but to decipher analogies with today’s popular access and extreme fashion of digital still images.

I felt that the assumption that images of those last years are the new popular hobby and habit that we need to research upon, was just a one sided reading of the story. Obviously its extreme use by both amateur adults and children (which is my topic) is not coincidental, but neither is it unique. There have been several similar cycles of intense or occasional commercial burst related to the still image in the past. This tool, this technique, this way of expression, has offered several times in history amusement, entertainment, artistic expression and communication. Obviously the process was different and the access too. But it seems that each time, history supports its analogies. For example , from the 1860’s through the early decades of the 20th century, tens of millions of stereographs were manufactured and sold.

Stereographs: where reality met fiction

Stereographs: where reality met fiction

The predecessor of 3D was an extremely popular item and experience. Both for kids and adults (M. Heifemann, (ed) Photography changes everything, Smithsonian Institution, 2012) Lets not forget that Europe and North America, where mostly this would be happening, had only 400 million people inhabitants together. Companies were mass producing stereographs and shrewdly marketing them as both educational aids and home entertainment. Reminds you something?

The question is what could we learn from these life cycles of the image? What was the understanding of reality and representation? What was the relationship of children during those times with the act of visioning through a frame? Lets have a look at one of the few known children photographers of the beginning of the 20th c.: Jean Henri Lartigue (1894-1986) . A young bourgeois, of course, who offers us though a very young at heart point of view. Here is what he himself wrote:

My cousin, by Lartigue

My cousin, by Lartigue

“as a spectator I enjoy myself. But suddenly this morning an idea began to dance around in my head, a fairy tale invention thanks to which I will never again be bored or sad: I open my eyes, shut them, open them again, then open them wide and hey presto! I capture the image, everything: the colors! the right size! And what I keep is moving, smelling living life. This morning I took a lot of pictures with my eye-trap.”

This attitude sounds very familiar to me, reminding a few six year old kids I worked with at a park project 4 years ago. Our underlying theme were the 5 senses and we used small digital cameras (Karamella Nursery, Athens, 2011). It was still a period that kids wouldn’ t have access to smart phones but some would be allowed to hold their parents’ Cybershot or other small digital cameras. A day in a big park with their classmates and the encouragement to observe and take pictures of what they like most triggered the photographer inside them in a very passionate way. As if the tiny digital frame became a new way of seeing the park itself and the life inside it. A particular boy was very passionate about looking at things and clicking in a way that reminds both Lartigue and the way children treat sweats. I believe the question can be about the observation skills that children may develop and the connections they can make about the world around them through photography.

JH. Lartigue's photo of his room

In my room my collection of racing cars, 1905

Young intruders in a 150 year old library

The National Library, Panepistimiou Av., Athens (1860)

All Athenians and tourists have seen that. How many have been inside?

I walk past the grand and beautiful building once a week, like most of us. I have so often used its pavement as a meeting point and I have been in marches going past it. Hunger strikes by Palestinians used to start nearby in the 80’s, conscientious objectors delivered information, then the Iraqis, the Afghans and so on. The National Library, lifted on its impressive marble staircases, work of a German architect, following his neoclassical dream in Athens of the 1900’s, was uncertain about herself. Her administrators had forgotten her and so did we. Things changed recently and I was fond of getting back in using it. Thanks to the Future Library programme I offered a workshop there. I particularly enjoyed two things: first, to turn the library rules upside down: unaccompanied children allowed, taking photographs, sitting on the floor, using crayons and scissors…Second, to experiment with the contrasts between old, stiff but wise space and young, flexible but ignorant age.

Groups of children making their photostories on the floor of the National Library.

For the final synthesis we found it best to work on the floor, while parents and readers were using the desks!

Maria Leonida guiding a group on their shooting.

Choosing the right picture.

4 children Shooting their story among the oldest books!

A new story among old books.

Documentary training

On edutv_logo5-7 April 2013, I shall be running an intense training, aimed at primary and secondary level teachers who already have a prior experience in video production, invited by the Educational Radiotelevision , EduTV (Ministry of Education) and the MEDEAnet Programme. This 4th workshop of the programme is focussing on developing documentaries in schools. The workshop will take place in Athens, Greece, will involve a lot of hands on experience, a teleconference with teachers form other countries and its outcomes will be presented via EduTV.