Words & images: Stephen Leslie

Cecil Beaton, the great society photographer of the Thirties and Forties famously did it by blowing on a kazoo. For years pet photographers have been using bits of tinsel, feathers on sticks, or even wafting scraps of meat around behind the camera. But what about fathers? What can a dad do to get his child to take notice and gaze adoringly at him at precisely the right moment for a unique image that will be treasured forever? Unfortunately the answer is nothing.

I should know because over the past four years I have tried every technique known to humankind with only a very sporadic, unpredictable degree of success. The problem is that we are lulled in to a false sense of security. Most very young babies love having their picture taken because they haven’t got the foggiest idea what it is you are doing. They smile when smiled at and so a swift bit of gurning usually results in a reciprocal gummy grin or even an attempt to eat the camera. I have countless photos of Fred lunging towards me open-mouthed as he tries to lick the lens.

As soon as they understand it’s within their power to frustrate your ambitions, they revel in not cooperating.

Digital photography has made things slightly easier as you can instantly show your precious darling the photograph and they can see what you’re trying to achieve. But once they get a bit older, say from one and a half upwards this actually starts to work against you. As soon as they understand that it’s within their power to frustrate your ambitions, they revel in not cooperating. From two years old upwards, child photography tends to start as a negotiation then rapidly develops in to a fight, and actually becomes a bit more like street photography where the best results come from unexpectedly and stealthily capturing a moment. If this can’t be achieved then we have to resort to gimmicks.

For a while I could shout out something like “Oh no there’s a squirrel on my head!” and Fred would eagerly look over and I’d take a shot or two, then he’d realise he’d been tricked and turn his back on me in annoyance. Soon, a simple squirrel wasn’t sufficient, it had to get more extreme, I started saying “Oh no, a squirrel is pooing on my head!” But now this too has lost its novelty and where do you go from here? I’m still in trouble with some friends because I inexplicably shouted out “Bumtree!” to get a photo of Fred and their daughter, but then she went off and started calling other kids “bumtree” at school. Now it’s known as the Bumtree Incident and we don’t get invited over much any more.

Do I really want to have to resort to bribery just to get my own child to smile at me for a photograph? Wouldn’t that taint the emotion?

It’s probably just a matter of time before I crack and start screaming “Just smile at the bloody camera now you little shit and look happy.” And that’s not exactly going to create the perfect Kodak moment is it? So what’s the solution? If not the stick then maybe a carrot would work?

Although, in the case of Fred and most four year olds, an actual carrot is no carrot at all. They require a lolly or chocolate or a doughnut but he’s getting pretty chubby as things stand. Pretty soon I’d need a wider angle lens just to get him all in and do I really want to have to resort to bribery just to get my own child to smile at me for a photograph? Wouldn’t that in some way taint the real emotion, if behind every photograph there was the promise of a reward?

I’m probably over analysing this but I’m not sure I want to look back in years to come and think, oh yeah that one cost me a bike, this one needed a DVD… I’ve decided I’m not going to go down that route. If Fred doesn’t want his picture taken then fine, I’ll just not take his picture, I’ve got enough as it is. Or maybe I’ll just try buying a kazoo?

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