At the time of writing this my son, Fred, is nearly four years old and I conservatively estimate that I have already photographed him thirty thousand times or more. The vast majority of these are unexceptional. In ninety percent he is happily going about the business of being a baby, laughing or angry, shouting or eating. In some I have placed a false moustache on his face for comic effect or positioned him in front of some inappropriately offensive graffiti.

But again and again I’ll return to this image of him lying on the floor with a beach ball in the foreground. He’s got his left hand splayed out and his ear pressed to the tile like a junior safe cracker listening to the tumblers for the right combination. He’s also giving me a stony faced look as if to say ‘Really Dad? Another bloody photo?’ Just seven months old and he’s got the measure of me already.

Photographs are easy.  They start with reality but they’re not real. Real life is harder and you can’t tinker with it in photo-shop afterwards

The thing is, as a new father it’s fairly easy to feel useless. Babies need their mothers and Dads are left to either goof around or get in the way. One technique to compensate for this is photography. Most men will use the arrival of a child as an excuse to go out and buy a new camera (or at least a new lens) and then proceed to document every single moment of banality or genuine importance as a way of feeling more involved in the process. Ask a group of toddlers to draw their Dads and at least one will always come up with a strange, Cyclopean beast with a black box and a lens for a face.

The other truth is that, early on at least, photographs are almost better than real children. A few decent shots of a smiling, contented baby are far easier to deal with than an actual baby with all their mood swings, tantrums and emissions. With expensive equipment and careful editing, a motivated father can rapidly construct a perfect child. One that never cries or answers back but just permanently smiles, laughs and is beautifully lit. Before you realise it you’re spending more time posing your offspring and then looking at the pictures than you spend with the actual baby.

Photographs are easy. They start with reality but they’re not real. Real life is harder and you can’t tinker with it in photo-shop afterwards. That’s why I keep returning to this picture. For me, it works on two levels, it’s a pleasing image but it’s also a permanent rebuke. Stop taking so many bloody photographs, he’s saying. Put down the camera and come and pay me some attention, play with me and maybe then I’ll smile…. Although then I’d inevitably just run off to find my camera.

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