Being a Child
From what perspective can one say something about this slide? What punctum catches the eye of the observer and what happened in the lead up to this photograph? Is what we see a promise of truth from a private photographer?
Quite evidently at the centre of the photograph:
A child, plump and adorable, white baby clothes, little balls of the feet, red, wispy toddler’s hair, chubby cheeks and large eyes, innocent gaze upwards, accentuated by the grotesque situation of sitting in a tea trolley. Next to her, the father, steadying the tea trolley with one hand, reading and yet not reading, smiling and yet not smiling. Is his outstretched leg protecting the child – or with a gentle physical supremacy, is he stopping the child from getting down from the tea trolley until the photo has been taken?
The impulse for the photograph: the child, its Being Sweet, its sweet being – the thing that is attributed to childlikeness, that is supposedly Being a Child and that is nevertheless not. As long as it took for this photograph to be taken, as long as the camera was being fetched and the photographer pressed the shutter, the child stays in the tea trolley, imprisoned in Being Sweet. The child’s Being-with-Oneself, the reconnaissance of the tea trolley, the fingers exploring a smooth, mirrored Formica surface continuing until someone cried And look over here now, and where is…?
And what is latently present in this photograph is a kind of quiet betrayal – the parents have peered at, giggled at this childlike awkwardness, the limited horizons of her thirst for discovery. They are pleased that their child is little and sweet and is sitting in a tea trolley without knowing what this object is – and in doing so, they forgot what constitutes Being a Child, the Not Having to Know of Being in the World.
And here, now, directly at hand, the photographic evidence of an almost perfect oblivion of that first, tender here-and-now of an ego. The foot, the father, the distance, the hidden smile, a stand, calling out, turning around from exploring with fingers: the immediate reality. And arising from it, a memento of a child-being, that does not require a staged memory. Birgit Szepanski
Attention guide I: We try an interpretation. We run away. The panels of the open door act as vanishing lines in this picture. Signal white as signal red. Father and child, the constellation of the figures in the room and their gazes that guide the attention of the observer as well as the photographer. We are tempted to add vanishing lines to this picture, arrows of vision on which our understanding snags, or on which reprimands and meanings stand out in the index of time.
Attention guide II: Or alternatively, we apply that modern process of eye-tracking. We entrust ourselves to complicated apparatus to analyse our eye movements. Our head is fixed and then this photo is put in front of us while a camera scans our iris and its movements, and transfers this iris-movement data to a computer that in turn projects the fixation points of the eyes and their temporal change back onto the photograph in a diagrammatic process, drawing the corresponding dots and lines onto the picture and thereby portraying the temporal process of seeing and attention. The apparatus makes the most distinctive elements of the photo visible and the places where our gaze keeps returning to…and where our gaze keeps returning to; that could be the meaning of the photograph.
Attention guide III: And what it says about our own relationship to Father and Child that we read and write this here and snag exactly on this part, that we begin (or put to an end?) this analysis of attention or begin a theory of memory or re-remembrance of the ideal gaze situation between father and child or between child and third person (the mother?) whom the child is obviously looking at and keeping/ establishing contact with and smiling, smiling for acknowledgment, a person (the mother?) obviously outside of the picture frame to whom the child has a relationship, there under the side table, while the relationship to the father is as it is, whether he flicks through a magazine for parents or an Ikea catalogue or the instructions for a new video recorder or has sunk into any other technical cliché in the meantime; the magazine, “The Model Railway Enthusiast” for example. We could also make a family constellation out of this picture, for example, or we could talk explicitly about feelings in this four-person play (father, child, invisible person (mother?), invisible photographer/observer) but that would be too vague, that would surely be too vague, like talking about colour and the connection between colour and feelings in photos that are recorded by analogue machines.
Attention guide IV: But we could also simply find this child adorable, the way she alters the function of things in her childhood-ness and smallness and adorableness, all by herself, turning the side tables for remote controls and beer into little railway carriages with catering on the roof or into caves that you can climb inside. Or we could ask why it touches us, this adorable-little-child-scheme, over and over again. And we could invent a Theory of Adorableness for it. That too would be a possibility for interpretation or for running away.
The world consists of vanishing lines. Rainer Totzke