Keeping an 'obsession' with Max in focus
My experience with cameras is very limited; that is to say, I am a lousy photographer. Even so, just as a hack writer loves his own writing, I love my photographs.
When my wife, Suzanne, was about to leave on a research project for two weeks, I went out with our 10-month-old son, Max, on a sunny afternoon. In 15 or 20 minutes, I shot an entire roll of film on a disposable camera.
They were practically the first photographs I had taken since high school.
Suzanne is sparing about taking pictures. She likes to wait for the right moment, even if most of those moments pass. I, on the other hand, understand shooting and shooting and shooting.
I got back those photographs the next day, so we could give them to Suzanne as a going-away present. There were several good shots out of that batch: on the grass in a park, within sight of our apartment, with uptown and the Hudson in the background.
I don't have to worry about many technicalities, since you can't focus the lens of a disposable camera. I've come to see, however, that there would be advantages to being able to zoom-in or focus. I don't like it that the camera won't make sense of an image that's too close. I'd like a nice, sharp, close image of Max's face.
All I'm interested in photographing since Max arrived is - Max. I take about two rolls a month. Suzanne gets irritated because there aren't many pictures of either or both of us with Max. I exclude us not because I don't want us in there, but because I'm trying to catch Max.
He doesn't yet pose. He's attracted by the camera, but he doesn't know what it is to pose. I like it whether he looks at the camera or not. My favorite shot would be when he's not looking at the camera, but at something, with interest. I've tried to do some shots that show he's in Manhattan, but those haven't been very successful.
I was holding him in my arms at the 125th Street station, waiting for the train, and tried to get a picture of both of us in front of the 125th Street sign. I held the camera up, pointed it at us and clicked.
I took a picture of Max crying as he walked toward me across the Barnard College lawn. He wanted me to come with him in pursuit of pigeons, not sit on the grass with the little box in my face. Once he started to cry, I realized I wanted to get that image. I only wish I had photos of all the varieties of his expressions. I'm less interested in seeing how he grows, how his face and body change, although I'm startled when I look at the few photos Suzanne took when he was three to six months old; in some, it's hard to recognize him.
A dozen years ago I saw an artsy movie, tinted in blue, by a man who was obsessed with a minor movie star. It included clips from her parts in movies and photographs from magazines. There was a musical soundtrack. You couldn't hear the dialogue because it was unimportant to the director. His obsession was her image.
I think my photographs are about my obsession with Max. It's not important that he look wonderful in any of them. It's important that he have a familiar or recognizable expression on his face, one I know and therefore love.
When I picked up some new photographs this morning, after dropping him off at day care, I opened the envelope and looked through the images, smiling as I walked down Broadway to work.
Bob Blaisdell teaches in Brooklyn, N.Y., and lives with his family in Manhattan.
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