About three months ago, my digital camera conked out, and I still haven’t replaced it. In the apparently endless interim, I’ve taken to buying disposable cameras. One day my three-year old son, James, saw me opening a new pack of cameras and asked if he could take some pictures. I taught him how to look through the viewfinder, click the button and wind the roll to the next picture. He developed a taste for it. He’s gone through about 10 disposable cameras since then.
A fair number of his pictures are unrecognizable as anything, either because he pushed the button before raising the camera or because he was so close that whatever he intended to shoot ended up out-of-focus and/or hyper-exposed (with most of these disposable cameras, once the flash has been turned on, you can’t turn it off). Other times James accidentally puts his finger over the flash, which causes a weird strobelike effect, evidenced in the shot of the lamp below.
But some of the photos are striking, if only because they show the world as a small boy sees it.
There are lots of pictures of relatives, neighbors, plants and flowers, the remains of meals, pay phones, trash cans, dogs, cars, bikes, fire trucks, playground equipment, pigeons and the photographer’s shoes. There are also a disproportionate number of snapshots of attractive young female strangers—typically posterior views, taken after they’ve smiled at him in passing. James’ signature image is a portrait taken from his height looking up. This angle forces the subject to look straight down into the lens, which means that almost everyone James photographs appears to have a triple chin. Sometimes he pushes the button before he can frame the shot, resulting in what I call the James Seitz anti-portrait.
James keeps his snapshots in 4x6 albums, the covers of which are decorated with stickers (alphabet letters, Disney, cars and trucks and the like). He’s filled one album and is halfway through another. I wish I could definitively report that he has found his calling at age three, but he already seems to have moved on to new interests: pestering the cat, “sweeping the floor” by dragging a broom around, and putting a laundry basket over his head and pretending to be a robot.