I was trying to draw her out of her shell. I took a couple of quick snapshots of her and showed her the picture on the camera’s rear screen.
As we sat with her mom Silva, and the other women who make some of the knits in our shop, Ileen gradually edged closer and closer. Her shyness was no match for her curiosity about this magic clicking box of pictures.
Finally, she got close enough to watch me work, her ponytailed head an inch away from mine. I took a picture, brought up a preview of the photo to show her, and took another. I didn’t get a chance to show her a preview of the second photo. Her little fingers were already on the “play” button. In another minute, she’d pried the camera away.
Despite barely being able to grip it properly—my slim rangefinder was gargantuan in her toddler-sized hands—she managed to hold it aloft, find the shutter button, and take a photo. Then another, and another, before lowering the camera, previewing the slew of photos she’d taken, and returning the camera to active mode to take more.
She did it all without any help from me. I was amazed at how swiftly Ileen translated my actions with the camera into something she needed to do herself. We know that technical mastery comes easily to children. Most of them take to gadgets like ducks to water, and Ileen was no different.
Photography is about much more though, and it takes years for us photographers to learn those immeasurable details that go into making a good photograph: interpreting light, composing a frame, figuring out what we want to photograph, as well as how we want to make the photo.
And this is what took me by surprise. Ileen might not have known why she was taking photos, beyond the fact that the camera was a fun new toy, but she understood immediately that her mom and all the other ladies in the room, gathering to deliver their knits, were her subjects.
And she knew how she wanted to photograph them—as the energetic eye of a 6-year-old saw her community of unofficial aunts, cousins, grandmothers—right in the center of her frame… and her heart.
Watching her take photos was magical. Her photos were stunning and evocative. They did what every photographer aspires to do: capture the light of love.
Most photographers will attest to the transformative power of making pictures. How the very act reveals and connects them to the world. That is my story with photography, too. But watching a 6-year-old take my battered camera and express her love by making images of those around her—it was its own transformation. It was a gift to watch those images change the world around us for that precious hour. And think that just maybe, ripples of that hour would be felt in Ileen’s life to come.
The women in this room were gathered here to deliver their knits, knits that you buy from our shop, knits that provide an income for their families. But to come alongside these women is to come alongside their children, their whole family, too.
Silva has a new identity as a provider. And Ileen, young and precocious, is now a creative, an artist. A world of possibility, of opportunity, of hope opens up for an entire family.