Children Smiling Essay Research Paper Philip DanknerWriting

Children Smiling Essay, Research Paper

Philip Dankner

Writing Workshop


Madeline George

Children Smiling

In every crisis situation?whether war, deep poverty, or natural disaster?children are the greatest victims. They are the weakest physically; therefore they are the first to succumb to disease or starvation. Due to their age, they are incapable of understanding why they are forced out of their homes, why their neighbors have gone against them, or why they are forced in to refugee camps with no explanation. With no responsibility for their fates, they are by definition innocent.

They are full of energy, unless they are seriously ill, and are willing to smile at all costs. From my personal experience in Botswana, the children are more visible than adults, and are more readily accepting of being photographed. Christmas of my junior year of high school was the date, and Botswana was the destination. A safari with a family of five, I couldn?t imagine any other way to spend my Christmas vacation. Not only did it get me into to the college of my choice it opened my eyes to a different culture that I was not previously exposed to. It seats nine, it is big, green and takes rich families around Africa, I like to call it a Land Rover, but they seem settled with ?people mover?. As I stepped out of the people mover I couldn?t help but look through my camera constantly. I was beginning to observe my surroundings thinking about the memories that were about to be made.

Just as people see things through their eyes, I see things through my camera in pictures. I had just embarked on my image making adventure of a lifetime. I was in the center of a village of about eight hundred called Jedibe. Not only were the people friendly but, they were also eager to get their picture taken. I began shooting. It was my first true ecstasy. I can?t even begin to explain the feelings it brought to me. I was in a state of Euphoria. I was looking at poor weathered starving children who were staring at my camera like a deer caught in headlights. Even though the children were extremely poor they were happy to see my family and me. I suppose they were so happy to see my family and me because they were dependent on tourism. Tourism was their main source of income that provided the village with employment.

One of my distinct memories was of a man whose job was to clear animals off the runway at the airstrip. He would chase away all the animals before and after any of the planes took off or landed. He did not speak to us, but you could tell he took his job seriously. I spent over eight hours photographing him and Jedibe village. That day, I began making relationships with them that I still keep today. The one person their that sticks out in my mind was a small little girl named Tooka. She was not shy, and she was the cutest little girl I have ever seen. She would let me hold her in my arms, and photograph her non-stop. Meeting Tooka and a completely new culture, enabled me to open my horizons and begin to understand how other people in the world live and work. This was probably one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had in my life. It made me realize my dream of becoming a National Geographic Photographer, and paved the road that I would take to my destination?NYU.

Although it benefited me in such a great way, how did it benefit them? It honestly didn?t. I sent the black and white prints of the people back to Africa. They sent back messages and thanked me for the prints, but other than that they truly did not benefit from what I did in Africa.

As I was researching African photographers I ran into Sabastio Salgado. He is famous for his portraits of children in their natural environments. He specialized in photographing children in black and white. When reading his introduction to his book The Children I remember him describing photographing children by saying,

When they see a camera, they jump with excitement, laughing, waving, pushing each other in the hope of being photographed. Sometimes their very joy gets in the way of recording what is happening to them. How can a smiling child represent deep misfortune?(1)

This quote was parallel to the way I felt while photographing children in Botswana. They were extremely poor yet the happiness they conveyed on their face was insurmountable. The photographs were supposed to convey their poverty and misfortune, yet all I saw was happiness. I was photographing in Botswana on Christmas day 1998. I was there for most of the day and didn?t want to leave. I remember a group of children that I photographed were preparing to perform a dance for our tented camp that was located just up the river from their village. They were dancing with beads in sacks on their ankles. The emotion and energy conveyed through my camera lens could not be repeated. The motion of their legs and arms, the smiles on their faces, the beautiful costumes they were wearing, and the energy they encompassed was amazing, but more importantly I have that memory in my portfolio to share with other people. Photography is about taking one moment in time and record it, making it a memory. I make memories to take with me for the rest of my life. In Sabastiao Selgado book, he took each photograph to remember the children he encountered throughout his assignments. Documentary photography is about taking a moment of time and history and recording it making it a memory. Documentary is the style that Salgado and I both encompass in our work. That day I shot 30 rolls of film and was sad, because that was all the film I had with me.

Another striking feature of photographing in Africa was their sense of family. When I embark on an image making adventure I see different things. When I made the prints from Africa, I noticed how family oriented they were. I have numerous photographs of brothers and sisters embracing each other. I have images of older siblings taking care of younger ones. It was as if family was an utmost important part of their lifestyle. As I photographed the children in Jedibe village I thought about my childhood. It made me look back at my childhood photo albums and remember that trials and tribulations of my own childhood. This was another aspect that made me think about the importance of memory in photography. I hope they will take the photographs that I sent and use them in the future to help them remember their childhoods. At eighteen I realize how fast my childhood went, but at least I have photographs to remember special events like my birthday and Christmas. Without these memories I will never be able to look back and reflect on how I grew up.

The next and most important observation I made when I was visiting Africa through my photography was the aids epidemic. Why does an entire continent on a whole have to suffer from such a deadly disease? As an outsider I was just observing. There is a picture I took of a little boy laying down behind a group of people. He was very skinny, so I inquired about him. Someone clued me in that he was dieing of Aids. I almost cried when I heard that. As a gay male I guess I sort of have a grasp of HIV and Aids, but not to an 8-year-old child. Someone that age should not have to be dealing with such a travesty. I can only take that memory and relflect. I think about my childhood and imagine how I would feel if it was cut short like that. What does someone at that age remember. How does someone that age deal with such a short lifetime.

Broadening a person?s perspective on new things is very important. I learned about a new and different culture, a new country and a new continent. There is so much more I want to learn and do in Africa. I hope that in the future I can return to Africa and experience more than I did the first time. There is a tremendous amount of community service that I would like to partake in Africa. I hope that in the near future I can plan a trip back to Botswana and use my knowledge I have gained here at school to good use. When I returned from Africa I gained a tremendous amount of knowledge on a variety of subjects of which I had no prior knowledge.

The future is always uncertain, but the past is factual. The past gets put into history through documentation and memory. Without memory we would never learn from our mistakes. We would also never recall the past. I am beginning to understand the relationship between photography and memory. It is very important to understand that when I take photographs they become my memories from my life. That was what my trip to Africa was, one big body of work that is now memories.


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