Childhood Unplugged Features Jess Soper

Jess_Soper_Photography-5I first stumbled upon Jess Soper while sifting through the #childhoodunplugged hashtag in search of images to feature. I found the image of one of her boys under a bridge, his shoes and socks haphazardly flung to the side and I was immediately overcome with that feeling of nostalgia. I thought of Dean Moriarty and Sal Paradise and life on the road. It’s amazing how you can fall in love with an artist based on a story you gave to a single image. And when I dove deeper, I only fell deeper in love.

I hope you’ll enjoy learning a bit more about her, too.
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Tell us three interesting things about yourself. 

I got so bored of looking in my wardrobe and wondering what I should I wear, that I’ve decided to wear a type of uniform, minimalist and practical!  I’m only a month in, so this could get really dull – but so far so good!
I cry in the car A LOT.  Most of the time I cry because I’m happy,  I’ll be listening to good music and thinking how lucky I am and how good life is,  then the tears will start rolling. But sometimes I’ll be listening to the the news and I’m just overwhelmed with sadness.  Luckily I rarely cry when I have passengers (apart from my kids, who are quite used to me being mental!)
All I’ve ever wanted to do is tell stories, when I was a kid I used to make up ridiculous lies. Then I thought I’d be an author, but I could never sit down and write for long, so I got a degree in Journalism, but realised most news is depressing.  Luckily my photos are my way of telling stories now and they flow for me much easier than words, I love giving people photos which tell a little part of their story and in the future I’d love to do a documentary project.
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What was it like growing up on a farm and how did it shape the way you’ve decided to raise your own children? 
I lived my childhood on two very different sorts of farms.  The first was my nan’s feral, bohemian cattle farm.  We lived in a small bungalow on the edge of her farm and everything there was ramshackle. Farm buildings cobbled together from scrap wood, plants growing through windows, cows escaping into our garden.  It was wild and free, a childhood filled with mud and imagination. I’d pop to my nans for tea and she would send us into the garden to collect freshly grown vegetables. We’d return to the house and find a cockerel on the kitchen table or a calf in the shower. And to add to the madness the whole farm was surrounded by the M25 (the large motorway encircling London) and just down the road was a bone factory which pumped out the most awful smell, which I can still remember vividly. So it was certainly not a ‘conventional’ start to country life, whatever that means!
Later on we moved to a much more idyllic farm in the soft, Suffolk countryside, where I think I really found a deep love for nature and the harmony and peace that you can only really get from roaming free outside.
Without a doubt both those experiences have shaped how I bring up my boys. I’m a very hands-off parent and passionate about fostering a love for the outdoors in them.  We live in a town house with a small garden, so my kids don’t have acres of land to explore but we spend most of our free time roaming around outdoors.  We camp often, go to the woods, swim in the rivers, explore the seashore, even in the freezing rain, we’ll be outside, it’s just become woven into part of our daily lives. I love to see my children covered in mud, picking up bugs and playing games created from their imaginations.  I don’t believe kids should be worried about how their clothes look or if there are twigs in their hair, I want my kids to be resilient and independent. I also try to let them do their own things a lot,  I had lots of time on the farm, which in all honesty was just plain fucking boring, I didn’t appreciate it that much at the time, but I see now the beauty in unstructured time where you can be not only bored but also silently inspired, so I do make sure I don’t overplan my kids lives and I like seeing how their creativity evolves when they are left to their own devices.
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Tell us a little about your boys and a few things that make them unique.
My eldest is a real nature lover, he says he wants to be a skateboarding explorer, who lives in a log cabin in the woods.  He is sensitive and deep, a thoughtful child but also pretty temperamental, exploding at the most inconvenient moments! He is also a non-stop-making-machine. Everyday he writes stories, draws, paints, makes models from junk… our house is a mass of paper and strange objects glued together. I definitely see a lot of myself as a child in him.
My youngest is far more easy going, just 3 days after he was born he was laughing in his sleep.Like his brother he loves to be outside, but life doesn’t seem to be so intense for him and he has an infectious contentment about him that just rubs off on everyone.  He still loves to run wild though, he loves being in water too and is great at climbing and swinging from high objects!
They make a great combination and most of the time they get on well, I hope that lasts as they get older.Jess_Soper_Photography-9
What kinds of things do your boys enjoy?
They are definitely outdoor children, they love running, climbing trees, attacking each other with sticks, camping, burning things and of course making…. so much making!  We don’t have many toys at home, which is a deliberate choice, I’m a bit of a minimalist at heart and I want my kids to understand the value and meaning of the things they have, which can be hard in such a disposable age. But also I realised quite early on that my kids hardly ever play with toys.  Apart from a few toy cars, dinosaurs, some dressing up bits and lego they seem unfazed by everything else.  Infact, recently, what they seem to enjoy doing most with their toys, is throwing them out of the window, so we’re down to the bare minimum now!
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It’s the weekend and you have nothing that you need to do. How do you and your family spend the day? 
Dom, my boyfriend, normally gets up with the kids because he is a better person than me,  and I’m totally crap in the morning. Then he’ll bring us up tea and we’ll hide, undisturbed in the bedroom for an hour or so.  After a slow start we’ll normally head out to somewhere outside, the woods, sea, country park etc. normally finishing with a good lunch at a pub and sometimes meeting up with friends, that’s a pretty standard weekend for us if we’re at home.
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It’s important for adults to have unplugged time too. How do you like to spend your time when you have a few moments to yourself?
I normally plug myself in, not unplug myself and any spare time I get is spent editing photos, or learning new techniques or finding inspiration!  But I try and read books fairly regularly, do a bit of yoga, sometimes I’ll do some self-portraits if I’m feeling creatively blocked up.  My real escapism is music though, for me there is nothing as powerful as music in letting you escape. I’ve had a few nights out this summer with my friends, child-free and care free with lots of dancing and that to me is the absolute best way to unplug!
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What do you want your boys to remember most from their childhood?
That they were loved and that their parents loved each other  That we had some fantastic friends and family in our lives and that we might have been a bit odd but we had a whole load of fun, and most of that fun was free.
I dread to think what they’ll actually remember, probably holidays in wet, cheese-smelling tents, frazzled parents always telling them to be quiet and stop destroying things, a mum who could never find their shoes (or hers) and a dad who was always dragging them to festivals and making them dance to house music in the living room with all the lights off.
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I think children who spend more time in nature become more independent and confident adults. Would you agree? Please elaborate. 
Yes!  I’m super passionate about letting kids have plenty of time in nature!
I don’t think you need to live in the country to let your kids have this freedom though.  Nature is everywhere, it’s in that patch of grass on the corner of the road, it’s in that wet, muddy puddle, it’s the slug hiding under the bin.  When I stand in the playground and hear parents telling their kids off for getting dirty hands, or mud on their school tops, or telling them to put down that ‘gross creature’, my heart shatters.
Letting your kids get mucky, letting them explore and be free is so important.  It fosters excitement and respect for the world around them. Nature is all around us, accessible and free which is hugely liberating to most children who spend so much of their lives being told what they can and can’t do. They can really push their limits, creatively, intellectually and physically, when they are outside. The sense of achievement from things like, lighting  your own fires or climbing trees is never forgotten.
Let your children embrace nature, and let them be free and unrestricted, let them take off their shoes and get mucky, let them swim in the sea with all their clothes on, let them laugh when they tread in a cow pat and I have no doubt your kids will be 100% happier and more confident as adults. In fact, I think in many ways, it is the only hope for the human race, without these people with a love and affinity for this world we are doomed, hopefully our kids will do a better job than we have.
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I often think of the childhood unplugged movement as being more about what we do instead of what we don’t do, but I’m also curious about screen time in other’s homes. Do your boys enjoy TV/screen time? Is it something that you limit or is it not even an issue?
They love watching films, nature documentaries and a few other bits and bobs. I’m no cultural snob and trust me I’m extremely grateful that this form of entertainment exists, I might have had a breakdown without it by now!
I think our kids are so lucky to grow up in a world with so much access to information, with just a little curiosity you can pretty much teach yourself anything, which is an incredible thing.  On the other hand we don’t have a TV and the kids are restricted to watching things on a half broken laptop.  Not surprisingly, they don’t spend a whole lot of time on there!
That was a conscious choice when they were little, and they now self-limit themselves fairly well – much better than me!  My eldest son asked for a tablet once, as a lot of his friends at school have them.  We didn’t get him one so he made one out of an acorn and a bit of paper and was totally happy!!
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Are your children ever bothered by you photographing their adventures? How do you maintain a balance of being present and still capturing the moments that you do?
Mostly they are unphased, I think it’s just second nature to them. They do have their moments, normally when they’re tired, where they tell me to not take photos and I try my best to not to.  I think it’s important to respect that.  In terms of staying present I think photographing them actually helps me to do that.  We spend a lot of time outside and when they are off doing their own thing I love to be able to potter around with my camera,  it means we probably spend a lot longer outside than we might do otherwise.  It also leads us on some ridiculous adventures. Sometimes, I get lost in the idea of a good photo and will neglect bedtimes and all the usual rules about what they can do. Only the other week we were camping and I was putting them to bed when I spotted a great sunset on the way, somehow the ‘going to bed’ turned into a walk through miles of sand dunes, boys in nothing but pyjamas and only a camera between us.  We made it all the way to the sea, had a swim, saw the best sunset of the year and returned back to the tent hours later to a very confused dad who wondered where the hell we’d been!
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I love that you give your oldest a camera to use from time to time. Tell us about the things he’s captured.
I think it’s really important that you share the things you love with your children, and of course if they’re around cameras all the time they naturally gravitate towards them.  He has his own compact which he’ll take out on walks with us or when when we go on holiday.  I love looking at his photos, he’ll photograph a lot of nature but if we’re around people they’ll be the main subject of his photos, recently he’s also started getting me to pose in ludicrous places.  The other day I had to lie on a patch of grass, trying desperately to avoid the piles of dog poo, because he wanted to get me lying down with my eyes closed in the golden sunset light!
Do you have a favorite photograph and if so, can you tell us about it?
I’m so fickle, I literally change my favourites every week or so. I’m like that with everything, but at the moment it’s this one. I only had a second to grab this photo, we were out on a walk when we spotted this thistledown,my son held this to his face and said ‘it is like soft-pillows for fairies’.  I was lucky with the light and within a moment he was off and into something else, but I knew this one would be special to me.  I love it as a beautiful picture in it’s own right, but also because it reflects him so completely.
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How did you first get into photography? Did what you were drawn to photographing change after you had kids?
My dad was a keen photographer when I was growing up and he used to develop his own films, this obviously had an influence on me.  But really it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I began to get serious about taking photos. Having kids helped re-open my creativity which I think had been pretty repressed for a lot of years. My children have definitely shaped my photographic style, they are wild and free, not the sort of children you could get to sit still for long, so I’ve had to learn to be quick on my feet, looking for beauty in unusual situations.  They also teach you to notice all those tiny meaningful details in life that you often forget about as adults. Although being a mother can sometimes appear to be a thankless task, there is no doubt they have inadvertently taught me as much about life as I have taught them.
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What kind of gear do you shoot with?
A nikon d750 with a 35mm 1.8 lens which is what I use most the time, I also love my lensbaby edge 80 for when I’m in a creative rut.  That’s what I shoot with most of the time, apart from weddings and other work where I’ll have a flash and couple of other lenses, I’m pretty minimal with gear though.  I don’t like to feel burdened by stuff.

Childhood Unplugged Features Jesse Burke

jesseburke1Jesse Burke is not only one of the newest member of Childhood Unplugged, he’s also the author of Wild & Precious, a collection of images he’s shot of his daughters in nature over the last few years. He’s tremendously talented, has a clever vision, and it’s my honor to introduce you to both him and his work. With no further adieu…
Perhaps we should start off with a general introduction. Tell us where you’re from and three things about yourself.
I’m from Stratford, Connecticut but I consider myself a New Englander at large. I spent many days, weeks, months traveling around all of my life. We live in Rhode Island these days.
Things about me:
I’m a huge, major nerd. I take my family, which is composed of my three daughters, Clover Lee, Poppy Dee, and Honey Bee, and my wife Kerry, out and explore nature a couple of times a week. I think it’s so important for them to be physically in touch with the natural world.
I spent most of my life as a skateboarder. This may not seem like a major thing but it as truly shaped who I am as a person and parent.
In addition to being a photographer I also teach at Rhode Island school night. I went there for school and feel a deep need to stay connected to academia and help students become awesome artists.
I notice you shoot a lot of commercial work but I’ll bet your heart lies in your personal work, which I feel like is common for many photographers. Give us a brief synopsis about your personal project, Wild & Precious.
Wild & Precious documents the road trips I embark on with my daughters in order to get them intimately connected to the natural world. It also serves as a love story between father and daughter, man and nature and children and nature. It shows all of the adventures we have on the road, where we sleep, what we eat, and the objects and animals we come in contact with.jesseburke3Maybe this is too personal, but I’m curious about your own upbringing. Did the way you were personally raised play a direct role in how you are in-turn raising your girls?
I think as parents we take the things we think worked from our own upbringing and push them forward onto our children and we discard the things we don’t think worked very well. I find myself taking a few of the things that happened between my parents and I and utilizing them but I’m really trying to do something different from what my parents did. I’m in a very different situation than they were. My career affords me the opportunity to spend a lot of time with my children and include them in my artwork which really is a magical opportunity.
To teach about nature you too must know the ins and outs. Is this something you tackled as an adult or grew up learning from someone else? What kinds of things, in regards to life or nature, do you make a point to teach your daughter, Clover?
As a child I spent a lot of time outside in the woods. I became very familiar with the indigenous species where I lived, which wasn’t all that rural. So I guess you can say I am self-taught.  When I moved back to New England after college and started my first real art project I got very invested in the landscape of the natural world of New England. I took it upon myself to really learn about animals and nature. This has of course parlayed into me teaching my children about that, as seen in my Wild & Precious project.  The two things that I really try to instill in my children are compassion and love towards creatures and the earth in general. We’re all ethical vegetarians, so in a simple way they understand the dynamic there and why we make the choices we make. One of the most important things to me is that my children feel a connection to the earth and the animals that inhabit the same space that we do. I don’t want them to be afraid of animals so I’m go out of my way to teach them about the creatures and how they should interact with them. It’s quite amazing to see the babies not afraid of spiders or bees. We have a beehive in our yard and they have zero concern.jesseburke7I understand you have two younger girls who are too young to join you on these adventures. Are they eager to join in? Do you worry about how the dynamic will change between you and Clover when they are old enough to tag a long? I imagine it’s been a great bonding experience for you and Clover. Maybe you can touch on the bond between you and Clover, too.
I think Poppy, my four-year-old, is very eager to join in because she understands what’s going on. I actually took her on our first 3 person shooting adventure last fall. It didn’t go all that well. I think she is still too small to really endure the hiking in the woods. She got tired really fast. With that said, I’m really excited about the next phase of this project. Including the two little kids into the mix is something that Clover and I are waiting for. Clover often says she can’t wait to teach her sisters all the amazing things that nature has to show them. The bond that Clover and I have is undoubtedly partially due to our experiences together on the road. In fact the introduction to my book is a letter to Clover from me chronicling how I feel about our experience on the road. And the conclusion to the book is a letter from Clover to me. The letters are my favorite part of the book. Even more so than the photographs.jesseburke8How does your wife feel about these adventures? Does she ever want to tag along? How do you think these trips would change if they involved the whole family?
My wife loves that I take the girls out on the shooting adventures to document the process. She doesn’t feel left out because we spend a lot of family time out in the wild as well. But she knows when I take the girls on a road trip to shoot for the series that it’s work and not all fun. She respects the difference and can totally appreciate it. I feel so lucky to have a partner that encourages and supports my artistic practice.
My motherly instinct is very attracted to the Free Range kids movement, which – in short – is about trusting our children to do more for themselves and allowing them independence. I feel like what you are doing is very in-line with this kind of parenting. Would you agree?
I totally agree. I think we need to let our children be as independent as possible and learn things from experience. I’m a big fan of nature play and free range parenting.
You’re raising three girls. What are the more important lessons you want them to take away from life?
To be kind, patient and understanding, to love the earth and each other, and to be confident and strong.jesseburke10
How would Clover describe these trips? Are there ever times she doesn’t want to go or is it something she always looks forward to?
I believe Clover would describe the trips very much like I do. She looks forward to them as a getaway, a vacation of sorts. She looks forward to the opportunity to spend time alone with dad and go out into the world and explore these amazing locations. The kid has seen more amazing things and done more amazing things than I have and she’s only 9.
Curious how long a typical trip is and how you work around school. Are you okay with her missing a few days of school for the sake of learning outdoors? 
Usually the road trips last between three and five days. We try to take them when there’s a break from school, but I am okay with her missing a day or two for the sake of this. I think she learns a lot out in the woods in a different way than she could ever learn in school. Different things but equally important.jesseburke2
I love the images of Clover in the hotel rooms. Can you touch on what those images represent and why they’re included in the series?
The sleeping images are meant to represent a resting point, both literally and metaphorically, in the bigger adventures. They serve the more precious end of the scale. She is tired and vulnerable and I see that working with the wild child you see in the other images. They are meant to also serve as moments of pause in the book, moments of reflection on what we encounter that day and what may come tomorrow. They are spread out across the book like a backbone. In fact the first and last picture you see are her asleep. This is meant to give the viewer the experience that possibly the entire book is a dream. The sleeping images came into play one night when we were back at our hotel and I decided to take some pictures of Clover sleeping because the stripes on her shirt looked amazing against the stripes of the sheets. When I woke up in the morning she said she had been dreaming of salamanders, that we were out in the woods and she was catching them. Later on that day our plans got sidetracked and we ended up parking in some random spot and hiking into the middle of nowhere. We stumbled upon this stream where Clover found tons of salamanders and ended up catching them and playing. The dream acted as a premonition in some way to the day that was about to come. I took that as a special sign to continue to photograph her sleeping. In fact, I photograph her sleeping every night now when we’re in the hotels. I started to take pictures of the two girls sleeping together on the two most recent trips.
Where has this project taken you?
We spend a lot of time in New England, Vermont, Maine, Rhode Island, Massachusetts. We spent some time in North Carolina, Virginia, lots of time in the northwest corner, the Olympic national Park in Washington state. We’ve also been out to the desert of Arizona and the coast of Eastern Canada.
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I notice the bloody nose and the broken arm. Do share.
There are images scattered throughout the project and book. They are meant to act as gut punches. Images that make you feel an immediate emotional reaction to the physicality of being young and fragile. These images often come in the form of injury. Clover had eye surgery when she was three, a broken wrist at summer camp when she was six, and a basic bloody nose. These images are meant to allow the viewer to feel the vulnerable and precious side.jesseburke6
 Tell us about all the dead animals and why you feel drawn to capture them. 
I think the animals in Wild & Precious act as supporting characters in the play. We often desire to be connected to the creatures we encounter but it’s impossible because of their fear of humans. So oftentimes the only way we get to touch them and be physical with them is when they’re dead. My children have overcome the fear of dead animals. It’s not strange to touch a dead animal but rather a way of experiencing a deeper connection with the animal world. On a side note, death is so closely related to sleeping that the animals also appear to be sleeping in the pictures, which mimics the sleeping of Clover. There’s also a notion of masking throughout the series where faces are secured, both animal and human.
The feel of your photos remind me some of Sally Mann, who is one of my favorite photographers. Can you discuss some photographers that have influenced you over the years?
Sally Mann and Wynn Bullock have served as endless inspiration for me. The way that they capture portraiture and it’s relationship to the landscape is absent particularly when Bullock’s images of his daughters at the beach and in the woods.jesseburke4
 What do you think is the most important lesson Clover has learned since you started this project? 
 I think the most important lesson she could have learned from any of our adventures is to be courageous and confident. She does things and acts in ways that often make me feel very proud to have helped her acquire such secure grasp on who she is and what she’s capable of.
How about an important lesson you, yourself, have learned?
One of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned in my life came on these roads trips. Clover taught me to let go of being in control and to collaborate with her. To have confidence in her abilities and to see her as a partner and to not be such a dictator. I have a tendency to be a bit of an overlord when it comes to producing my photographs. She showed me that the best opportunities come from working together and experiencing the moment not as a dictator with the subject but as a teacher and a student where the relationship is reciprocal. I’m stubborn, it took me many frustrating experiences to get to the point where I am today. But I thank her for that, because in the end it’s what makes the images more unique and special.
Your project has been released as a book, which is awesome. Can you tell us a bit about what that journey has been like? When was the book released and where can we find it? 
Yes, the book was released earlier this month to coincide with a solo show at my gallery in New York, ClampArt. The book is published by Daylight Books. It’s been an amazing partnership and experience to bring this book and project to life. Creating the book, editing the pictures, talking about the ideas with essayists, have all brought the project full circle and into much more clarity in my mind. Sequencing the images in the book has also helped me establish relationships between pictures that I never thought possible.
The Wild & Precious exhibition is currently being showcased at ClampArt located at 531 W 25th Street, Ground Floor, New York, New York. Locals are more than welcomed to visit the gallery. You can purchase the book on my website at Wild & Precious. Also for purchase are items such as hats, stickers, shirts, and other things which have been created for purchase and are Wild & Precious affiliated.  This part of the project is really fun for us.
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 Will the book contain any images from your Instagram feed? Would love to hear your general thoughts in regards to mobile documentation.

Ah yes, one of my favorite parts of the project has been shooting with my phone in addition to my camera. I approach photography in a very different way with my phone so incorporating the images from my Instagram feed and iPhone into the project was an amazing opportunity to bring two seemingly disparate worlds together. The work is all created at the same time from the same mindset so it only made sense that they were family and live together in the book and exhibition. I’m really excited about this because I feel that the Instagram images are much looser and more fun in some ways to my formally composed camera pictures. I can’t wait for people to see this book and experience the adventures we go on and hopefully be inspired to take their own adventures. It’s a wild and amazing world out there and we as parents need to make sure our children are aware of just how magical it is.

Speaking of mobile documentation, Jesse is moderating the Childhood Unplugged Instagram feed this week. Be sure to hop on over, say hello, and check out his features. Thanks for your time, Jesse, and best of luck with Wild & Precious


Childhood Unplugged Features Dara Scully

Dara Scully 3A while back I featured an image of Dara Scully’s on our instagram feed and immediately it drew a lot of attention; a few were disgusted by her work while others defended it. I’ve loved her work ever since I first laid eyes on it and I embrace the fact that some of the images make the viewer a bit uncomfortable. With all due respect to the artist, I wanted to give Dara an opportunity to discuss her vision and her philosophy of childhood. I think her thoughts on it all are very beautiful and raw.

I hope you all will show Dara the love and respect she deserves.
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Tell us a little about who you are, where you’re from, and how you enjoy spending your time.

I’m a photographer and writer from Spain, or maybe I’m just a tree. A forest creature, a tiny animal. When I’m sad, I run naked through the fields. They’re my home, my safe place. I adore foggy days, winter and Chopin. I’d love to be a ballerina or a bird. I only drink tea with milk, and if you want to give me a book, you could try with Nabokov.

You’re not just a photographer; you’re also an illustrator and writer. Can you touch on what all three of these roles mean to you and how they’re interrelated?

I use to draw, but I’m not an illustrator. I love it, because I studied Fine Arts at university and it’s close to me, but my heart belongs to photography and writing.

I started to write when I was 13. It was my life for a long time. Then, I discovered photography. I could tell stories with pictures, and, most of the time, I didn’t need anything else. But I was a writer. Inside, in my heart, I was a writer, and finally it came out again. Now, I’m going to publish my first novel, and my world is balanced again.
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I love your ‘Sleeping Beasts’ series. As the mother to two boys, I really understand both the cruelty and tenderness that define childhood. Can you talk about what prompted this series and how your subjects feel about posing with these deceased animals?

I’m obsessed with childhood. I don’t know why, because my own childhood wasn’t special or magical, and I don’t want to be a mother, but the point is: I’m obsessed. Maybe it’s because everything is so pure in childhood, so raw. They don’t understand hypocrisy or cynicism, they don’t act with duplicity. Cruelty, tenderness, evil, kindness… they feel all those feelings and show us just as they are.

About the deceased animals, the children feel a bit of curiosity, and sometimes sadness. I feel sadness too –I find all the animals in the woods, dead- and we usually talk about them and then we bury their bodies and put them into the ground again.

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Your work seems to receive scrutiny from time to time, what do you say to those that challenge your artistic vision?

I only ask for respect. Childhood and death are kind of taboo, I can understand the reticence. But my work is honest, and it’s full of dedication and delicacy. Maybe you don’t like it, I accept that, but please, respect me, because I’m not doing anything cruel or immoral.

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Tell me about the subjects in your images. Are they your children? How do they feel about being directed in the way that they are?

They aren’t my children. In fact, I didn’t know them three years ago. They live in my village and when I saw the boy for the first time, I thought: I need to capture him with my camera. And it just happened.

They’re extraordinary models, really sensitive and intelligent. They always understand my requests, all my indications. Sometimes, they give me more than I ask. I’m very lucky.
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I love the idea of including children in art. People oftentimes only think of ‘unplugging’ as being associated with play, but it can also be associated with art. Wouldn’t you agree? Please elaborate.

Of course, I agree. As I said, there’s a taboo about children; we have to protect them from everything, and sometimes we’re too closed-minded. A few years ago, I exhibited Sleeping Beasts, and some people said: this artist doesn’t respect childhood. Why? Art is knowledge. Art makes us better people. My models have learned about death and respect with my pictures. Sometimes, they want to take their own pictures. It isn’t a job or an obligation for them, they really enjoy it. They want to know, they ask me questions.  Is this so bad? Really?
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It’s a struggle for many schools in the United States to maintain art as part of the school curriculum. How is art introduced to children in your country? Is it taught in schools? How have you taught your own children to value art and support your own work?

In my country, art is something useless. You have to be a doctor, an economist, a lawyer. When I was in high school, the art students were “lazy and stupid”. Smart people studied sciences in high school. It was a kind of rule. It sounds so sad to me right now…

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What projects are you currently working on and would you mind sharing a little bit about them?

Now, I’m working in a new series called “A child is playing”. It’s something raw and disturbing, but different to Sleeping Beasts. Sleeping Beasts is full of poetry and “animal sense”, they’re like beasts in the forest. “A child is playing” is like a tale or a nightmare. These children have grown, they understand their own humanity. And they put this new knowledge into their games. And it’s scary.

You can see the first pictures by clicking here.

You can find Dara Scully on instagram by clicking here.


Childhood Unplugged Features World Renowned Artist Alain Laboile

 

In the world of photography there is a term known as the decisive momentHenri Cartier-Bresson said it best, “To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression.” A moment in time… the way we see it is not as easy to capture as you may think. It takes patience, a good eye and a love for what you are capturing.

Alain Laboile, a self-taught French artist, quickly mastered finding the decisive moment and has created an incredible body of work. He picked up a camera in 2004 to document his work as a sculptor. Discovering the macro setting on the camera, he took an interest in photographing insects, some of which he submitted to online photography contests and won. In 2007, a whole new world of art was about to begin for Laboile as he pointed his camera towards his family and realized his greatest subjects were right in front of him. At his countryside home, “At The Edge Of The World” in France as he likes to say, he captures the everyday moments of his children’s childhood. The backdrop of his studio is his environment, nature itself. He began to submit his work online and immediately started to receive responses. Within weeks, his art spread worldwide, and he credits this success to social media. With his work displayed in the French Museum of Photography; the first French museum to exhibit his photographs in their 2014 exhibition ‘Aux frontieres de l’intime’ and two books already published with his art, Alain Laboile has definitely made a name for himself among one of the masters.

We are beyond honored to be featuring his art and asking him a few questions in regards to his children’s unplugged upbringing. Welcome Alain to Childhood Unplugged!

Do you remember that pivotal moment when you turned your lens from photographing insects towards your family in 2007 and realized you were onto something big, which was the beginning of your work La Famille?

Yes, it was after the birth of my fifth child in 2007, I pointed my lens towards my growing family and this was, though I did not realize it at first, the starting point of my family album.

I have spent a good amount of time admiring your art and one thought keeps coming to mind, “What an amazing childhood his children are living!” It is not often you see children one with their environment and nature as your children are. How have you seen this lifestyle shape them as individuals?

This simple life close to nature shows them that we can be happy and creative while having a simple life by limiting the consumerism. Each animal is a gift: a rabbit, a fox, a squirrel, a hedgehog, a mole, a mouse, a snake, a spider, a toad… kids are allowed to touch them, but they know that they are not allowed to hurt them. They learn respect. The kids wanted a swimming pool. We decided to dig it ourselves. It was hard-handed work. The entire family was involved in the project. They now know the meaning of effort. There is no ideology hidden behind our lifestyle. We raise our children by following our intuition.

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Your six children range in age. While it is easy to document children when they are younger, it becomes more of a challenge as they get older. Do you find that your older children no longer want to be photographed? Or, are they still fine with it?

They never complained that their pictures appear all over the internet. They are proud to see their photos exhibited and published all over the world. I always show my images to my wife and to my children. If one picture is embarrassing for someone, I delete it. If I take less photographs of my teens it is only because they spend much more time out of the home.

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I read that your own childhood “had little restraint, no sense of urgency and no concept of time.” growing up in the countryside of France. Did you know before you started your family that this was the way you wanted to raise your children?

We were four brothers, a little bit left to our own, exploring the countryside, not very involved schoolishly. I do not have many memories of my childhood, and no photographs. Both my wife and I grew up in the countryside and we only knew that we wanted to be extremely present for our children. Today it is still the environment that best suits our peaceful family lifestyle. We sometimes feel the lack of cultural opportunities, but we live only 40 km from Bordeaux and three hours by train from Paris.

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Unplugging is so important in childhood, but in today’s society there is also a lot of good that comes from technology. You yourself credit social media for your success. I believe there exists a healthy balance between the two. Do your children, especially your older ones, spend time on technological devices? 

We have no television, but many computers. First of all, we want to protect ourselves from uninteresting programs and unbearable presenters! Watching television is a total passive activity. Furthermore, the children spend more time outside and play more together without it. We recently started homeschooling. The internet has been a valuable resource.

Do you have boundaries and time restrictions for it? 

Not really. We are not very strict regarding schedules like meals and bedtime. When you live with teenagers and small children, you have to be flexible to preserve harmony. The prohibition provokes the frustration. A supervised freedom protects the balance.

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You are giving your children a priceless gift by photographing their childhood. What do you want them to remember most when they look back?

Time goes by so quickly. I would like my photos to allow my children to dive back into their childhood when they are adults and feel past emotions. These photographs can be a good help to build themselves as parents. We understand our children better when we remember the child whom we once were and how we lived.

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In the majority of your photographs you have captured of your young children, they have very little to no clothes on. While I know this is mostly cultural and completely innocent, there are many people who have a problem with photographing children in the nude. Take Sally Mann for example and all the grief she received for her work Immediate Family. Have you ever had any backlash or negative publicity because of it?

We live in the countryside, in an isolated place. Our children evolve in accordance with nature and the youngest get undressed spontaneously when the weather is fine. As they get older, and the notion of modesty comes, they dress again. It is this infantile nudity which sometimes raises problems. It is sexualized and demonized and this is when the censorship appears. Thanks to my publishers and gallerists, I can show all my photographic work without restriction. I do not mind criticism and attacks on social networks.

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You have had worldwide recognition and success with La Famille, a portfolio that you have continued to build. As your children grow into young adults where do you see your art heading in the future?

My little ones are 7 and 8. Two of my teens live at home and the elders spend a lot of time with the family. I usually never photograph kids other than my own. However, when I know them very well, I sometimes make an exception. My oldest daughter’s boy friend whom I’ve known since he was 3 years old, appears in some family photos. Some day, the grand children will enlarge the family. I am not worried about my photographic future! I have a lot of photographic projects in mind.

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Alain Laboile’s latest book “At The Edge Of The World ” is available for purchase. I myself own a copy and let me tell you, it is absolutely gorgeous.

To see more of his work, visit Alain Laboile

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Childhood Unplugged Features Zalmy Berkowitz

I remember scrolling past an image on Facebook of a little girl skipping along the sidewalk and her shadow reflecting against a wooden fence. I remember the image caught my eye and I clicked on it. From that first image, Zalmy Berkowitz has captivated me with his film photography. His art and passion for Documenting The Chaos is the real deal. I am beyond thrilled to have him as our guest for the month of August.

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Welcome Zalmy to Childhood Unplugged! We are excited to have you as our featured guest. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Oh man. Having no clue what you meant by this (if you wanted a few pithy lines, or a complete autobiography), I checked out some of the previous featured guests. Holy eloquence! (I’m looking at you Amy Grace, you ruin it for all of us!) I’m going to sound like the total Neanderthal here. That’s okay I guess. 

I was born and bred (to an extent) in Huntington Beach, CA, where my father was (and still is) a communal rabbi. Growing up in a Hasidic household in the middle of Huntington Beach was a bit of a clash of two worlds, and it took me a while to realize that the point is to reconcile the two, that one doesn’t exclude the other. Until 10 or so I just spaced out. Seriously. I read everything I could get my hands on and ignored the world. Went through all the Hardy Boys, much of the encyclopedia, all the ingredient lists on everything in the bathroom, even Nancy Drew when no one was looking. Early on I went to a Jewish Day School, and for 6th and 7th I went to a “Yeshiva” (Jewish school, focusing much more on Jewish studies than they do secular studies) in Los Angeles. That was my last year of any formal secular eduction. When my parents split I moved with my mother to Brooklyn and spent the next three years in a hardcore Yeshiva there. Then three years in Israel, another in New York (where I was appointed “official beer buyer” at 18 because of my beard), another in Israel, and than got my rabbinic degree in Pretoria, South Africa. 

Freshly rabbi(ed) and looking to change the world, I married the amazing Estee at 22 or so and we moved to a little ancient mountain town called Safed in Israel, home to wanderers and mystics, where someone (not a mystic), somehow downloaded Photoshop to our iMac (back when no one knew what an iMac was). That started my journey in the visual arts, though I didn’t know it back then. We came back to Southern California to run some programs for Jewish teens. I was designing our fliers and such and got a bit into it, started designing for others etc. Then we had baby number one. Then two. At this point I was getting annoyed at the lack of Jewish stock photography available for my designing so I bought some sort of Canon Rebel and figured it couldn’t be too hard. I never ended up taking those stock images but I did start shooting my family. 

I like learning, so I spent months at the library reading up on photography. The how-to books, the why-to books, the where-to and what-to. I tried this lens and that lens, and this camera and that camera. At some point I saw a Hasselblad in my local camera shop and thought it looked cool. So I bought it and a roll of film. The film didn’t fit, and that’s how I learned about medium format. Some 20 cameras later I know a bit more. Then came number three. At number four we moved into a slightly dilapidated house with a humongous yard (for our locale). Then five.  At which point we decided to move to Berkeley, (I just looked at the question and saw that it says “Could you tell us a LITTLE about yourself?” …oops) and have been working on that for the past year or so.

Your photography is just captivating. It pulls you in and leaves you wanting more. To do that as a photographer is hard, but to do it with film is just downright talent. It takes a keen eye (and a bit of luck) to know the precise moment to push the shutter button. Tell me why you decided to shoot film as your medium in a digital world. Do you ever shoot digital?

Hmmm, first of all, thanks! I think I answered a bit above. Film made me think much more before I took the shot. I would move the extra inch or foot to get a better angle. I’d clear that garbage, or climb the fence. I’d pay more attention to the light. And I’d put the camera down more often. With kids it’s always challenging where and how to draw the line between documenting and being in the moment. With film, you take your shot and move on. You finish your roll and put the camera away. I love the way the older cameras feel. They are so darn simple. An aperture ring and a shutter speed. What else do you need? They do their job and get out-of-the-way. Film cameras are also much simpler to make as the most complicated part, the actual film, was made by someone else. So there are all sorts of wonderful quirky cameras. All sorts of formats. I really enjoy shooting with a waist-level finder (especially kids), and I’m addicted to squares. Film just makes that easier. And the main part is that film just looks pretty darn awesome. 

Besides all that, as I grew with photography I came to realize that “perfect” and “clean” wasn’t only overrated, it (for me) was totally off point. We live in a messy, grainy, messy, and beautifully imperfect world. With digital I was always making sure my images were “tack sharp” etc. And I didn’t even know why. Why should an image be tack sharp? Why should it be clean? Film allowed me to escape that obsession, and focus on making images that emote, not just images that speak.

What are some unplugged activities your family enjoys together?

Sleeping. Well I enjoy that, the kids maybe not as much. You caught me at a challenging time as we’ve been out of our house (with our huge year and friends) and not yet in Berkeley with all it’s parks and homeschooling options. We read a lot. I’ll tell stories from Jewish history (ancient and recent) or the Bible. We try to get out to parks, the beach is right nearby so we hit that a lot (though it always freaks me out). We play catch and frisbee and all that normal, not exciting or exotic at all stuff 🙂 Once in a while I’ll take a kid on a hike, or bird watching. When in Berkeley we would go to the Lawrence Hall of Science like twice a week or so. That place is amazing. Adventure playground on Sundays… man we miss it there and can’t wait to get back.

Saturdays are completely unplugged as it’s our Sabbath, and we’re pretty strict about it. It’s so nice to not only have a day where we unplug, but a day where plugging is so completely out of the question that it stays out of mind as well. 

Your children are still very young, do you have rules for things like television, computers or handheld devices?

We try. Sometimes their watching gets a bit out of hand so we ban it for a few weeks. Generally we’ll do maybe a movie a week and a show or two in between. Curious George for the young ones, Wild Kratts or something for the older (the oldest is 8). My oldest likes building stuff so he watches a lot of how-to videos. I’m fine with that. The only game they play is Minecraft, maybe an hour each a week. There are a lot of good educational videos out there. We do let them watch Jewish videos that teach good values and morals, history, etc., though we do believe that videos are generally an inferior way of educating, and that (again, generally speaking) any moment glued to a screen is a moment lost to a better, healthier activity. It’s so easy to use the iPad or whatever as a quick babysitter when we need to get stuff done, but we always pay the consequences. Our recent move has been a little challenging for the kids as well so we give in a little (or a lot) sometimes. But there are always trade-offs and being an imperfect parent is part of being a perfect one.

If you and your family woke up one morning and had no agenda other than to spend the day together, what would that day look like?

Wake up to screaming kids that have been up for two hours (though they would have already taken the baby out of his crib and gotten him dressed, and honestly would have been playing nicely for the vast majority of those two hours), make breakfast that three want and two don’t. Try to fix that. Hide in the bathroom and breathe a bit. Come back and talk to the kids about the day. They’ll probably have already done some reading (hebrew and english) on their own, and the older two do their prayers on their own as well, so that’s cool. Then we’ll pack up some snacks and throw everyone in the car (that sounds quick but those two things together take an hour). Maybe we’ll head to the beach, or a park. Maybe we’d have called a friend to meet up with us. The kids will have fun, then fight, then have fun… more fun. We’ll laugh at some hysterical thing my four-year old says. Fight some more. We’ll go home, and I’ll shove a beer in the freezer, begging it to hurry up. Then I’ll relax a bit with the kids, play some ball in front. Forget about the beer because I don’t need it anymore. Then we’ll eat supper, after which the kids will freak out about going to bed. At which point I remember my beer, but it’s frozen… Or something like that. Sometimes the kids don’t fight 🙂

Unplugging is just as important if not more important for adults as it is for children, what do you enjoy doing when you have time for yourself?

Time for myself? I’m not sure that computes 🙂 If possible I’d spend it with my wife. Go out for a walk, a drink, or just to sit somewhere and talk. Maybe learn a bit together. If it was just me, well, I absolutely LOVE learning. If I have the time and mental capacity (i.e. I’m not exhausted) I’ll get lost in some book about Jewish mysticism, law, morals, or history. If I have less energy maybe a good biography, history, or a good book of stories. Other times I’ll go for a walk, a jog, a bicycle ride, nothing too exciting 🙂 but it does wonders for the soul.

Do you have a favorite image? Tell me a bit about this image.

This is hard. I’m not really sure. Maybe it’s the Polaroid of my oldest walking off a table. A good image to me is something that’s both a meaningful memory to me as a parent, and at the same time has a universal message. It’s a good image of my kids goofing off, but I feel like it encapsulates that wonder of childhood. Before we are all jaded adults who know the outcome of everything and have left nothing left to wonder. We all know that we can’t fly, but children aren’t so sure. “Yeah I usually fall when I walk off a table, but maybe this time…” There’s also the brotherly support holding him up, or maybe pushing him down, or maybe both… 

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So much is going on in your photographs. It’s like eye candy. I love how you capture things as is, the mess, the movement, etc. Do your children ever get bothered by your photo taking or are they pretty much immune to it?

I rarely ask them to do anything so they usually don’t mind. Once in a while I overdo it and they get annoyed that I’m not in the moment. And they are totally right. 

Twenty years from now, what do you want your children to remember most about their childhood?

The freedom. The wonder. The memory of trying hard to do something new and finally succeeding. The idea that learning is and can be fun, and that we are always shaping who we are. Irrespective of what society tells us. I want them to be unique and weird and proud of it. 

Children remember more than we think they do, thus why spending time together and creating memories is so important. If you were to ask your children to share one of their favorite memories what would they say? 

Probably going to New York, which was a crazy trip for us. Or maybe just playing elimination in the front yard. Or if there was a really good breakfast that day maybe that… I’m not sure 🙂 I think in 10 years the answers will be more revealing.

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Childhood Unplugged Features El Hogan

El Hogan has a way of capturing authentic moments of her children’s childhood that will just leave you awestruck. I knew she would make a perfect fit as one of our featured guests here on Childhood Unplugged. She makes me want to pay closer attention to the details and take better photographs of my children. You can learn more about El Hogan at www.elhoganphotography.com/au/blog and follow her on Instagram @el_hogan.

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Hey El! We are so honored here at Childhood Unplugged to have you as our featured guest for the month of March. Let’s start off by telling us a little bit about yourself!

Thank you for having me! I’m a lifestyle portraiture photographer based in Queensland, Australia. I have 3 rad kids, a lovely husband, 3 snuggly cats and a fat dog called Max. I shoot mainly families, as well as underwater fine art. I love the ocean, my vegetable garden and cooking. Oh, and wine. I love wine.

I absolutely love the way you capture the everyday moments of your children. Do you mostly take a photojournalist approach to documenting them? What would you say your favorite style is?

Thank you! I absolutely take a photojournalist approach to making images of my kids. I never pose or direct, but love finding moments that would otherwise go unnoticed. I love searching for interesting light and shadows, and it still stops my heart when I look over and see one of my kids in a pocket of light in my home or yard that I hadn’t really noticed before. I love walking in on them interacting with each other, and being able to see a memory for them when they’re grown. My life is so bright and noisy and colourful, but for some reason my favourite images are mostly in black and white. I love the feel and mood I can create with them.

What are some of your children’s favorite activities to do unplugged?

We’re lucky enough to live on a few acres of land and my kids are pretty free range. They have a great tree house they play in, and lots of bush area with a small creek they spend a lot of time exploring (although I’m constantly afraid of snakes!!!). We have a wonderful neighborhood filled with lots of kids their age, so our house is constantly full. They like to put on plays, ride their bikes and scooters, and the girls especially like to have tea parties. We also spend a lot of time at the beach, and the kids have recently started surfing, which makes me really happy. They are very active, outdoors kids, so pretty much anything goes. Last year we traveled around Australia in our caravan, and it was incredible. The kids were homeschooled and our days were spent exploring, hiking, fishing, swimming and enjoying time together. Later in the year we will be doing some more of the same.

Moms need unplugging too! What are some things you enjoy doing? What inspires you? Fills your cup per say?

To be honest, a lot of what the kids like doing, so do I! I really love the ocean, and I swim everyday. Most afternoons you’ll find me pottering around in my veggie garden, which I find really relaxing. I play the guitar, so if I need some time to myself, I’ll often sit and play or listen to music. I love to read and the last few years I’ve loved learning about nutrition and whole foods and cooking. As a mum to 3 busy kids, I don’t get a lot of time to myself, but I try to spend it learning new things and being inspired by things around me, discovering new artists and musicians, reading to my kids. I’m pretty laid back, and it doesn’t take much to relax me ;-). I also like that there’s so many options for streaming or downloading full tv series, and if I get into one, I’ll binge watch it after the kids are asleep.

If you and your family had absolutely nothing on your calendar for tomorrow, what would a day of spontaneous family time look like?

Definitely an early morning at the beach, followed by lunch at our favourite cafe, and maybe home to watch a movie together while it’s so hot outside. In the afternoon we’d hang out in our backyard and maybe cook dinner on the BBQ. I just love summer!! My husband works away a lot, so when we’re all together, we like to spend time at home when we can.

Kids remember more than we think they do. Making memories with them is priceless. If you were to ask your kids to share with you a memory that they absolutely cherish, what do you think they would share?

Great question! I actually asked them, so here’s what they said:

Harry, 8 yrs: My favorite memory is when we did the Spider Man walk in Karrajini National Park in Western Australia. It was hilarious when dad fell in the water with his shoes and clothes on. And I love anytime you cook lasagna. And that time when we were in America and we played ping-pong at that park in New York.

Lily, 7 yrs: It was so cool that time we went to the movies to see Tinkerbell, just you and me, and we were the only people in the whole theatre, and we moved seats like a thousand times, just because we could! And when I was the only one brave enough to go on that massive roller coaster with dad in Disneyland, even though I banged my tooth on the bar when it did the upside down loop. And anytime I stand up on my surf board I feel like I’m flying.

Darcy, 5 yrs:  I loved when we went to see Katy Perry, because I love her and because the music was so loud I could feel it vibrating where my heart lives.  I loved when we went to see Wicked and I got goosebumps all over my body when the green witch flew in the air and sang.  I love when we see rainbows, and whenever I’m allowed to use a microphone, and when I twirl a million times and fall over I’m so dizzy, and when I ride my motorbike, and when I get to go up and get awards in front of the whole school, and when we go to the pub for dinner and I’m allowed to have a pink lemonade. And last night Harry did a fart that was so loud, I heard him from my room.

(disclaimer: I think Darcy got a bit confused half way through and just started listing her favourite things 🙂 )

Everyone has a favorite image. Could you share it with us and tell us why it’s your favorite?

I have so many favorites! I have this one blown up huge in my studio, and I look at it everyday and never get sick of it. It was taken while us and our best friends were camping a few years ago, and it just resonates summer holidays and freedom to me.

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How do you balance time unplugging and time spent with electronics, devices, T.V., etc. Do you have rules?

I have rules for the kids, they have no screen time at all during the week, unless we all sit down and watch tv after dinner, or if they want to look up information on something they’re interested in, or to use Reading Eggs (an Australian reading program for kids). On the weekends they have 30 minutes per day on their iPad, and can watch T.V. in the mornings before breakfast. I’m pretty good with the balance, so I don’t really have any rules for myself. We don’t watch a lot of T.V., but like I said before, sometimes I’ll binge watch a series I’m into, which is a bit of a guilty pleasure.

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Childhood Unplugged Features Zhenya Skiba

It is no secret that I have a weakness for film photography, so when I came across Zhenya Skiba’s Instagram feed I was immediately captivated. Her images are absolutely stunning and have so much depth to them. Like storytelling all wrapped up in an image she leaves you wanting more. To my surprise she is not a photographer for hire, but a hobbyist. A mom with a passion for documenting her children through photography.

We are so honored to be featuring her work here on Childhood Unplugged today. Because of the fact that Zhenya is from Russia and English is not her native language, it was kind of hard to do a normal question and answering style interview. So I’ve asked her to simply tell us a bit about herself and what her family does to unplug.

“I live in the very beautiful city of Saint-Petersburg, Russia. I am not in any business, because I have three little children, three beautiful girls. They are 6, 3.5, and 1.4 years old.

I am Christian, and God helps a lot to go through all mummies difficulties. I take photos too much, my computer always rebells, but I can’t help myself. I am an accountant as main profession, worked as financial manager, and helped my husband in his business of short-term apartment rentals. But my real passion is drawing, sculpturing, design and photography. I do not have time to do anything of these, except photography, because children are always around, and its impossible to keep camera away – they are so much fun in all their creative games!

We love to travel a lot, and take kids with us. We visited China, Austria (skiing), Turkey, Thailand, Montenegro, and many other countries. Finland is very close to us, we drive there by our car. It takes only two hours.

I love cooking a lot.

Motherhood is a big challenge for me. It’s very hard. With three kids I strive to find time to play with them, cause all time goes on cleaning, preparing, feeding, and driving them somewhere. But I am working on positive thinking now, I believe God want us to rejoice and be happy.

I post pictures and fun stories about my kids in Russian at vk.com/mamaskiba but it is only for registered members. Sometimes I post them in Instagram, trying to translate to English too.

Thank you so much for your interest in my photos!”

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I think it is so absolutely brave to write in a language that is not your native tongue. Thank you Zhenya for sharing a little about yourself and how you unplug with your children. You can follow Zhenya on Instagram @zhenya_skiba

 

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