Colorado-based Photographer Christy Roese Ramp allowed her two children, aged 5 and 7, to photograph the last 50 days of her pregnancy and the first 50 days after her son’s birth.
The photos that resulted are filled with honesty, tenderness, humor and connection, all through the eyes of a child. In the following interview, Roese shares with the DFA about the project and what she has learned from her children about photography.
Molly Menschel: How did the idea for this project come to you?
Christy Roese Ramp: It’s the case of always the photographer and never the photographed. I document my family on a daily basis, but I’m very rarely ever in an image. At this time, I had been photographing my children every day for the last three years. I photograph us living our daily lives, but my presence in an image is from behind the camera. Our documented story had so far only been from my viewpoint.
I had been thinking about getting my kids involved in photography and I knew I would see the world in a different way when I could see from their viewpoint. I had a few different ideas but the effort and time overwhelmed me. Since I was very pregnant with their little brother, I was incredibly exhausted and uncomfortable at all times and didn’t want to add too much to my plate.
A fellow photographer, Willy Wilson (100 Day Collective), was inspiring artists to do something creative for 100 days in a row. The first day of this project started close to fifty days before I would deliver my last baby and the timing was too synchronistic to not participate. I didn’t really feel like I had a choice, I just knew I had to do it. And once I explained what we were doing and took the first step of putting the camera in their little hands on the first day, the snowball began to roll and I knew I couldn’t stop no matter how much I didn’t want to put in the effort at times or hear the kids occasionally complain.
How did you teach your children to use a camera?
99% of these photographs were captured using my professional (DSLR) camera. The majority of the time, I gave my kids the option to choose from a 24mm lens or a 50mm lens so that they would get a feel for the differences. A handful of times they used the 24-70mm lens, depending on which lens happened to be on the camera, or what was available nearby when they decided to document.
I taught them to focus on their subject, look for the light, movement and slow shutter speed. They documented without question, or they told me what to do and asked me occasionally to pose in a certain way. They only know back-button focus, and the metering was on auto for them. They would look at the camera’s screen for highlights and then ask me to adjust the settings if the image turned out too dark or light depending on what they were trying to achieve.
I’ve kept the crops of each photo as captured by each individual, and only minimally toned the images myself. The rest was accomplished by them.
How many photos did your children take each day?
They took a lot. A lot a lot a lot! Each one would average about 45 photos each time they picked up the camera to photograph! I had to practice my patience knowing I would have to sift through all of them each day. Sometimes both kids photographed, and sometimes only one did. Often-times they would shoot multiple times a day. I counted 48 photos of my pregnant self picking up gatorade and putting it in the shopping cart at Costco. 48.
How did you choose which photo from the day to include in the project? Were you children a part of the process?
I chose the final images as if I was the client. From time time to time I wouldn’t be able to decide so I would ask them to choose their favorite.
My kids had no inhibitions and at the ages of 5 and 7 and did not judge the images they photographed like I judge my own. At that time they would individually sit with me to scroll through the photos and I asked them which one was their favorite and why. Despite having a favorite, the other images weren’t judged as lesser, they just were, and I found that a relief. This lack of judging probably helped them move through learning quicker because the fear of failing did not hold them back.
Do you think each person has an inherent voice as an artist? Did you see this play out at all in your children’s photographs?
I do absolutely believe that we all have our own inherent voice. I think it sometimes comes through strong in an image, but a lot of mine is sprinkled throughout my work. I am always striving to understand my voice as a photographer and how I translate it. I feel like I am balanced somewhere between struggling to share my vision and struggling to understand it. So, I think that a part of who we are is in every photo as long as we are being completely true to ourselves.. I am an evolution of ideas and growth and contemplation so my work has to be as well.
Does our vision come from our growth or is it always there…it’s from both in my opinion. I don’t know how much closer I am to my true vision now than I was when I began photographing over 20 years ago, but I know that I trust my ideas and my vision more than I did then.
During the 100 days that they photographed me, differences in how my children photographed did become apparent. My 7 year old son often requested that the longer zoom lenses be put on my camera base. He also really enjoyed practicing with low shutter speeds so that my movement was blurred. My 5 year old daughter, on the other hand, much preferred prime lenses and would move around more to capture the photo from different angles.
I know my kids enjoyed the process of photographing, seeing in this different way and they were not as attached to the final photo. I’m at a place now where I am enjoying the process of seeing and understanding just as much as I enjoy the photograph, and it feels right for now.
Has this project changed the way your children interact with your camera when you’re the one photographing them?
I don’t think the experience changed anything for them when they are being photographed. However, I do think I learned the most and realized how patient they have been with me photographing them daily for all these years. I also learned that I needed to get more used to being photographed. Disregarding the camera focused on me is a skill that gets easier with practice, and I admire how they do it with such ease.
What insights in particular did you gain from being on the other side of the camera?
The most interesting insight from this project was choosing not to be critical of myself and to trust that I will look back and be happy with my appearance. It’s a strange thing to realize that I am incredibly judgmental of my own appearance when I look at recent photos, but I view myself in those photos so differently when I look back. I enjoy the photo for the beauty and memory and I don’t feel self conscious about the pregnancy blotches on my face or unwashed hair.
Understanding this phenomenon, I am easier on myself in the present day and I don’t tear my photographed self apart when the kids photograph me now. I celebrate the memory of me in a photo and I can see myself as part of the documentation. I could always see the beauty in everyone else’s mess, but this was one way I’ve begun seeing the beauty in my own mess!
Do you feel that photographing your labor gave your children a better understanding of the birth experience?
This is an incredible question that I never considered before now. Perhaps I won’t fully know the answer until many years from now when we have the conversation about the memory of this time period. They were already so much a part of the pregnancy experience because they could see how I had to sleep all the time and that I slowed down, cried more than usual and they would put blankets over me or shush one another while I tried to sleep. All of their baby pregnancy questions would be answered honestly by me or their dad, so they understood everything they could at their young ages because we had those conversations.
I believe at the time photography was just what one does and there never has been any discomfort with the camera, regardless of which side of it they’re on because that’s just how it’s always been. I don’t think their documentation made them any more a part of the process during my pregnancy, but it did put them in control of what memories we are going to have of that time.
What lessons have you learned from your children about photography or how to be a photographer?
I understood how much patience my children have with me while I photograph them. I see how they captured me so honestly because they had no preconceived ideas and photographed to photograph…and a child’s approach to photography is so very pure in that regard. I strive constantly to get back to truly seeing what is in front of me and not thinking about how I want to portray something or how to best shoot this moment or scene. Just see what is front of me without any thoughts or criticism swirling around.
I also flipped through a photo book of the 100 Days of Me by Them and realized that our family doesn’t have enough photos of me with the kids or my husband and I growing older. I take more selfies with us as a family now and I give the kids my street camera when we are all out and about to capture my husband and I as parents. I’ve realized I don’t have many photographs of my friends or us hanging out and I am trying to be better documenting us too. Seeing their images of me was a reminder that I am important to photograph too. Even our youngest, who is now four years old, asked me last night for my pocket camera so that he could photograph me with my husband while we were all playing at the playground. I’m proud of all of this.
For someone who is wanting to do a personal project but not knowing what to shoot or where to start, any advice from your own experience about how to figure this out?
I know I feel like it’s easier for everyone else to begin and complete a project and I have to continually remind myself that this just isn’t true. I thought about this project a lot and jumped at the opportunity because the timing was right. I’ve recently participated in two Photofantistico events that helped me realize that projects don’t have to be all consuming and can be quick and fun. I realized that I have to do things like competitions and the occasional photo class to push myself. And I’m currently working through the book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron so that I can get out of my own way. I’m learning to listen and love myself, and that I deserve the time to do this work, so that I will move forward and create more instead of holding myself back.