COLUMN: "Pictures of a new world"

This is my weekly column for the Sunday, Jan. 24, 2010 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune. UPDATE: Grammatical error fixed.

Pictures of a new world
By Aaron J. Brown

This past Christmas Santa Claus gave our oldest son Henry a camera that takes real pictures. The “real pictures” were important because Henry, 4, and his brothers Doug and George, 2 apiece, already owned several small, pretend devices that claimed to take pictures but instead showed Lightning McQueen in the display window. As any kid can tell you, animated talking race car Lightning McQueen is not omnipresent (so you better start the DVD over again).

But now Henry has a real digital camera and has been logging one snapshot after another. The camera he got was advertised more for parents than for kids, taking pictures “drop after drop after drop.” Most adult cameras advertise photo quality. This camera promises nothing in that department. In fact, it seems to say “accept what we give you – or we’ll make it breakable and collect your money anyway.”

Unlike the cameras with the fancy zooms and shutter speeds, this camera only shoots a subject in focus if that subject stands exactly six feet in front of the camera (or approximately, we haven’t figured it out yet). There is an automatic flash. It’s mostly for show.

Henry began taking pictures the moment we opened the package and installed the requisite batteries. The debut photograph depicted our dog Molly staring up at the camera, with a face that said, “Et tu, small human.”

Since then Henry has kept shooting more and more pictures, usually in the periphery of our vision. We hear the beeps, the boops, the faux clicks, the “shoobooboop” of the on/off button. But the content of Henry’s photography has, until recent, remained a mystery. However, at some point this digital camera’s memory was bound to fill, and fill it did. It was then that we enjoyed the process of downloading his pictures to the family computer.

About half of the photos depicted some version of the floor: wood laminate, carpet; upstairs, downstairs. Most of those shots also showed Henry’s foot, legs or belly (depending on whether he was sitting or standing). One nearly universal image was his partially askew sock, aiming off into the left or right corner of most frames.

The most endearing part of the photographs came in how they appeared together. For the first time as parents we were seeing the world through the eyes of one of these small people we’ve been feeding all this time. Among the favorite shots were the dozens of early-morning photos Henry took of his younger brothers while they were sleeping, waking up and, eventually, jumping in the cribs for the camera before we were aware any of it was happening.

Also dominant in the theme were the many pictures of toys. Obviously toys are a big deal to kids. Toys are their version of storage shelves, Pampered Chef products and Facebook. So important! And each photo of toys seems to show the trains, trucks and random animals in a light we hadn’t considered before.

Seeing these photos reminded me of the (bear with me) “real film” photos I would take when I was a kid. Though most of these pictures are lost to time, more specifically a poorly insulated family garage, I remember them still. I recall the scrubby lawn of my childhood home where I had set up my toys in formation. All the pictures of my younger sisters and I point down at the ground, where we are. Why wouldn’t a kid take similar pictures?

What we forget as we get older is to look down, to consider what’s already around as being important, and to document the moments that others cannot see. For this, we’re thankful for Henry’s new camera and his new hobby; even if some of the pictures fail to show us parental types in our usual, glowing light.

Aaron J. Brown is a columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune and a local writer, college instructor and radio commentator. Read more at his blog or in his book “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range.”


  1. Great column, Aaron.

  2. askew, not eschew-totally different.

    Made me chuckle.

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