A couple of reviewers have commented (very nicely) on the naturalism of my photographs of children. Many of my favorite photographers like Helen Levitt, Andre Kertesz and Roy DeCarava created images that capture the beauty of unexpected and unguarded moments. But this, like all things, does require some effort. In my case I use an extra tool when things don’t quite go my way, Photoshop.
When I planned the image I wanted for “Do Your Ears Hang Low” I imagined a group of kids hamming it up in front of a shop window filled with mirrors. There is a fantastic glass shop on Fifth Avenue just off of Bergen Street in Park Slope perfect for my needs, I thought. (If you are ever nearby you should go inside – it is beautifully grungy with old wooden shelves holding large pieces of glass.)
I contacted my cast – kids I knew through my nephews, Jack and Gus, and the son of a good friend of mine. We picked a date that worked for everyone – Yom Kippur. Public school was closed and all of the kids could make it. And when I arrived at the location just before four kids, plus accompanying adults and siblings – I found the unexpected. The glass shop was closed. Not for the holiday, it is always closed on Monday. It hadn’t occurred to me to check.
I scrambled around looking for likely reflective storefronts and had the kids try out one spot. But it wasn’t working. The glass was dark and the kids couldn’t really see themselves. They seemed self-conscious and were having a hard time understanding what I needed. The background looked too busy. I was having a hard time remembering the words to the song.
So we left. I thought that maybe I could pull something together with what we’d done, but I did need to try another idea.
We found a nice wide set of brownstone steps. If I left enough room at the top of the image, I would have a good clean space for the type. And then we started to shoot.
Most of the kids were upbeat and happily hammed it up. But I have learned to expect that not every child finds it easy or natural to be in front of the camera and also that a child can have a bad day sometimes. So it was expected, though still frustrating, that one kid would sulk in almost every frame I took. Luckily I got one or two nice shots that I could collage into the image above using a bit of Photoshop magic.
Perhaps the glass shop wouldn’t have worked after all. Perhaps if I had used the photo on the stairs with one slightly sad and pensive looking boy, I would have told a different story – a somewhat sadder, softer story. But I wanted upbeat and silly. So here we go!