Photographers of children fall into two
categories. They are either 'stalkers', attempting to remain unnoticed
by the child, or 'directors', starting with a preconceived idea and
exercising control of every detail of lighting, setting and handling of
the child. Both methods require a great deal of patience. The stalker
may have to wait hours or days or weeks for his picture. The exponent
of the director method needs a reservoir of patience to cope with
children of varying ratios of resistance and cooperation upon whom he
attempts to impose his will. At least some knowledge of basic child
psychology is necessary here.
The stalker technique is epitomized by
the work of Henri Cartier Bresson whose pictures are eloquent comments
on life. His perceptive genius enables him to observe unseen and to
anticipate the significant moment. His Leica, covered with black tape
to make it inconspicuous, is virtually an extension of his eye. He is a
spectator of life, the world his studio. As he roams, he constantly
analyses each situation. Few people notice the patient little man with
a camera in his pocket.
He uses a minimum of equipment which he keeps out of sight as much as
possible. His subject is generally 'people' but children appear in his
viewfinder at frequent intervals. He never communicates with them or
influences them in any way. He waits, and waits for them to reveal
themselves. A gesture, an expression, an attitude are observed sharply.
The subject is seen in relationship to the surroundings — children just
being children whether it be in the back streets of Paris or among the
war-tortured ruins of Madrid or wherever their actions can be caught
and used as a forceful means of expression.
It would be impossible to find a greater
contrast to the Cartier-Bresson approach than that of Francis Wu in
Hongkong. He is the complete director, starting out with a preconceived
idea and working out in advance every detail of composition, lighting
and costume. Exploiting the whimsical appeal of slant-eyed Chinese
children in story-pictures, often with a humorous twist, he has had
considerable success in the salons of the world. By sheer force of
personality he imposes his will on the children to coax from them the
desired mood and expression.
Working in the studio, his equipment is
elaborate. The lighting is multiple flashes with up to eight
flashheads, working from a single power source with booster which gives
guide numbers of t80-360. This lighting set-up gives him greater speed
and depth of focus, even working with a view camera with five-by-four
inch format, than is usually enjoyed by miniaturists in day-light. Yet
he achieves the undoubted superiority of definition and quality of the
larger format. His camera line-up is impressive. He uses various view
cameras and roll film single lens reflex.
After Francis Wu had given extra-mural
photographic courses at Hongkong University, the students became so
interested that they formed a camera club which has become one of the
most successful in the world. His wife Daisy, who was born in Honolulu,
has also won an international reputation for child pictures. She met
Francis during her college days. Finding herself married to a man whose
consuming passion was photography she soon became infected with his
enthusiasm and in 1954 won a 2,000-dollar American contest with a
picture of her two boys looking out of a misty window and called,
Waiting for the Sun. She now has eight grandchildren.
One of the many clichés concerning child
photography is the oft-repeated assertion that children can only be
photographed successfully in natural surroundings. My quarrel is with
the word 'only'. Cartier-Bresson the stalker and Francis-Wu the
director produce pictures that are brilliant in their different ways.
And between these methods are endless variations.