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TODAY

Saturday, February 23

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Airbags

When we were kids family photography wasn't the hourly occurance that it is now. Buying film, loading film, carefully choosing your shots, winding the film to the next frame, not to mention getting the finished roll off to Kmart to be developed, all of this was taken into account before pressing the button to snap a photo. Shots were planned, people arranged, lighting adjusted. Film wasn't something to waste, and in fact, that was the first lesson in my college photography classes, that we had to allow ourselves to "waste" film. We didn't have a digital camera when my first baby came around, and thus have boxes and boxes of prints, taken mostly by her grandparents, but very few physical prints of the boys, as everyone had switched over to digital by the time they arrived. It's interesting that within this current generation of kids there has been a major shift in documentation practices. Today's babies probably don't go a day without at least some portion of it being thoroughly photographed, videotaped, uploaded, flickr'd and blogged.

Lately the 8-year-old has been wanting his own digital camera. A lot of the boys he hangs out with are really into making short stop animation films with their lego's and action figures and this is the underlying factor in wanting to secure his own camera. At the moment I'm not super inclined to buy one, since the small electronic items that he already owns are often on the gone-missing list. Fortunately my poor son is not having to suffer through life without access to digital photography, even if he doesn't have his very own camera yet. The family camera is a household tool that everyone has access to, even if it has the uncool stigma of being "mom's camera" attached to it.

Our camera, a Lumix FZ5, which we purchased after reading Kevin Kelly's recommendation on his website Cool Tools, has turned out to be a really great camera for kids to use, even very small kids. It's chunky and the buttons are logically placed, and it has a good zoom lens. We like it so much that after we dropped the first one into Lake Okoboji (and before we jump to assumptions, the kids had nothing to do with that particular mishap) we went out and bought a new one after finally admitting that no matter how long the camera sat there and dried out, it was still going to be dead, and life was passing us by, undocumented.

The instant gratification elements of digital photography are a perfect match for the busy baby brain, and both boys have been shooting pictures from very early on. Let's say your 2-year-old takes 47 photos in a span of 2 minutes. Of those 47 photos, 45 of them are all going to be shots of the kitchen floor in all of its glory, or of his foot, or perhaps a series of unflattering shots of your stomach or rear end. But two or three of them will give you a glimpse of your house, or yourself, or your neighborhood that allows you to see what the world looks like from the eyes of that toddler; abstract flashes of some kind of reality, not exactly your own.

One of my favorite sets of kid photos was taken at our park. We had hiked up the hill and played for a few hours on a hot summer day. I had a melting-down 3-year-old and a six block walk ahead of me, so I put the camera strap around him, put him up on my shoulders and walked home. When I uploaded the photos onto the computer, I was amazed to find a photographic record of the walk through the park, about 70 shots, from the pond, through the grove of trees, down the hill, past the field house. The perspective is odd, slanted and surreal.

Last week we went down to the loop to check out the Manifest craziness down at Columbia — day long art happenings and exhibits, and a parade down Wabash which ended up in Grant Park where OK Go played to finish up the day. Winston documented the parade, I had to zip my lip to keep from telling him what shots to get, and I'm glad I did.

Somewhere in my archives there is a collection of photos I took at camp when I was about 9, shots of the sun rising over the Pocono mountains. I took a whole roll of film, one shot every 30 seconds or so. This was so remarkable and extravagant that when the prints were developed I glued them into a scrap book to preserve it for all eternity. If I showed the kids those photos they would not give them a second glance. After all, what's the big deal? They could shoot the sunrise every day of the week if they wanted to, and every minute thereafter until the sun fell into the western sky.

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About the Author(s)

Lori McClernon Upchurch lives on the far Northwest Side in a house that's overflowing with books, kids, pets and too much stuff from the thrift store. She is a proud member of Team Upchurch, a family of multi-talented unschoolers. She can generally be spotted driving around with a bunch of kids, not all of them hers, looking for someplace fun to get out and play.

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