The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera. -Dorothea Lange, photographer

The Frame Game

For most people, a camera is a recording tool. They want to remember moments, and the camera is ready to do that. Click! That birthday cake will remain beyond its last crumb.

But photographs can do much more than that. As Dorothea Lange said, a camera can change the way you look at life around you. Imagine if you walked through life with a picture frame in your hand. How would your daily views be different if you framed what you were viewing? What would you leave in? What would you crop out? Photos can pull ordinary objects out of the rush hour of visual traffic and give them space for contemplation.

I had a remarkable experience recently. I went through the color slides my father took of the family over the years, scanning them into my computer to make prints. What stood out to me – besides that for decades I looked goofy – was my dad’s artistic approach to framing a photo. Many times, he snapped us kids with our backs to the camera, so that the photo’s subjects and the viewer take in the landscape together. Though he’s gone now, my dad’s thinking – his creative “eye” – is alive in those shots.

We should encourage our kids to think with a camera in hand. In this age of digital photography, there’s less of a worry about “wasting” shots. Even if they don’t get printed, viewing those pictures on a computer helps kids to understand how images need a focal point - - one “something” to catch and hold a viewer’s attention. Learning to find and celebrate something extraordinary in a world full of ordinary things is a very useful life skill to have.

Let your child have a turn with your camera, digital or disposable. Let them experiment -- on your next trip, or maybe just in the back yard. Can they find some new perspective, a new way of framing what you look at every day?

Bruce Van Patter

all material ©2006 Bruce Van Patter