The history of street photography is full of images of lively children - shoeless and happy playing in derelict city streets, smiling in an outsized pair of mothers shoes, carrying home the shopping or, as in Henri-Cartier Bresson’s famous shot, a bottle of red under each arm and a cheeky grin.
Look through the average street photography account on Instagram, or any other social media stream, you will be hard pushed to find the younger generation at all. Sadly, this is not surprising.
We all know why. Nobody wants to incur the wrath or worse, the stream of abuse, of an irate parent fearful that their child’s image has been stolen for all the wrong reasons. And, therefore, many of us don’t try. Those images of children not only never appear - they are never taken. A hidden generation is being created at a time when we take more photos than ever.
Yet, if you walk into any town centre, children from decades ago, now adults or well-beyond, stare out from the ranks of birthday cards in stationers and supermarkets. Pick up a book of street photography from the last century, there they are; captured for posterity like ancient insects in amber. It’s almost as though children and their beaming smiles belong to another age and the streets today are devoid of children. Anyone remember the child catcher in Chiity Chitty Bang Bang and the empty square around the castle?
Are we to become the generation that didn’t have children? Or, at least, that airbrushed or Photoshopped them out of history? We would be much poorer for it - but that’s the risk.
Of course it is about intent. Why is the photographer taking the photograph in the first place? What is it they want to show? It is this intent which raises photography beyond a simple and precise record of a scene or object - almost for classification purposes. It isn't simply a scientific practice concerned with obtaining a correct exposure through combinations of shutter speed, size of aperture and sensitivity of sensors or film. It is an art form in which the photographer expresses an emotion, idea or even just a viewpoint. Surely any photographer who takes a photograph of a child for the wrong reason or with ill intent, will produce work which sets alarm bells ringing or, at the very least, leaves a bad taste in the mouth of the viewer.
Children’s lives hugely enrich our own. They remind us of a distant past that we often hanker after. They point to a future full of potential. They provide moments of great humour - often through their attempts to be more like us, the grown ups. They possess a wide eyed sense of wonder that reminds us just how amazing our world is at times when we have grown weary of it ourselves. And photographs of children can do all of these things too. They often point to a truth that, as adults, we need reminding of.
Of course, the problem of the disgruntled and anxious parent doesn’t go away. However, we will only perpetuate the situation if we accept it. We can challenge it by taking good photos of children. If we are open and upfront about what we do then maybe the disgruntled mum or dad would recognise the same things in the image that we saw. We should be less inclined to be furtive, secretive and hidden but be prepared to share positive ‘good’ images of children on our feed. That way we can demonstrate our good intent next time we meet an anxious mum or dad. And, as with any street photograph, smile, share your Instagram or website details and offer to email them a copy. All parents think their children are the best thing since bread arrived sliced - hey; they might even ask you to take some more.