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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Childhood Unplugged Features Amy Grace

I first came across Amy Grace’s photography through a post I saw on Little Bellows. I remember thinking, “My goodness these photos are amazing!” It was at a time when I was just getting back into shooting film personally again and seeing her images was just the boost that I needed to confirm my love for the medium. Her writing is poetic and reads more like lyrics to a song your heart already knows how to sing. She shares from somewhere deep, somewhere raw. I love that.

It is an honor to have Amy featured on our blog today; sharing a glimpse into the lives of her and her two precious littles and what unplugging means to them.

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I know that your medium of choice is film. Tell me a little bit about making that decision when it comes to capturing your children’s everyday moments.

Film makes me more careful – with their time and mine. It gets me OUT from behind the camera and into our lives. It is that filter, that extra pause that makes me think without overshooting. Film is discriminate. You don’t get fifty shots to choose from and edit to show what you want to show; instead, you get the truth. I am all truth, and want my kids to be too. And in that vein, it is spontaneous, permanent, prone to accidents of the positive and negative varieties, something you can hold to weigh down time. Film means I don’t have to sit at my computer, refining memories. It is beautiful, Velveteen Rabbit real, and so aptly – unplugged.

It is art that you capture, there is no other way to describe it. When I’m viewing your blog it’s as if I’m standing in a museum and pondering over each image before me. It draws me in, makes me think and then think some more. It’s not always easy to capture little ones and yet, you make it seem so easy. Do you put a lot of time into thinking about your shot?

First of all, thank you for your generous assessment of what I do. I have always considered my photos love as art. Whether I get it right or not, in my eyes or anyone else’s, it comes from such a pure place in me, the best in me, so I take it personally…and let it go just as easily. Everything I do is from the gut, from the hip. I intuit as a rule, in everything, even when I am thinking critically. So do I spend a lot of time thinking about what I shoot or write? Well I am always paying attention, trying my damndest to be awake. And I try to keep my eyes on my own world, instead of other people’s work. So that when something arises it will be revelatory, at least in a tiny way. It will be a record of how we were, magic and mess as one. It will be a record of me too, even if it’s a code I will read years in the future. I don’t share most of my personal photos of my kids lately. It may be a phase, it may be forever, but they feel so close, so vulnerable, like turning us inside out. I think about them because to me, they so often are the shot.

What are some of your favorite activities to do with your children? What are each of them passionate about?

We love being together. We are loose and free and natural and show up as ourselves. We are all gentle people, careful, and watchful. But there is laughter bouncing off the walls in our crazy, deconstructed house every day. My daughter just said last week that “we could speak in inside jokes”, which was poignant and descriptive of us. Don’t ever try to beat us in charades. Since we moved to Marin County, there has been so much to explore. Beaches and forests and towns that would take ages to burn through. We are in a state of wonder that we get to live here.

My daughter is a natural and gifted visual artist. She takes me somewhere else with her drawings, and she in turn teaches her little brother so much, if only in the act of making, all the time. Paper and pencils and markers and ink could keep them going for years. And she reads and reads and reads and stays up way too late, falling in love with books that reach beyond her years. And she dances like Martha Graham. My son is an old soul, free spirit hybrid who is finding his voice in the kooky observations he shares like poetry I would kill to write. He loves building and being outside on our adventures in the redwoods. He loves stories and cooking and music like I did when I was a kid. He is counting down the days to five, when he can learn guitar. For Christmas he’s asked Santa for a microscope. I love him.

The kids and I have been living in an extreme construction zone for over a year, honestly, with no close end in sight. We share a single, makeshift bedroom, with mattresses on the floor, one closet, none of our stuff. And it has been hard and heaven. The closeness is all we need, the talking, the questions, the answers, the listening. Everything is game. There is no need for a plug. Our electric bill was twenty nine dollars last time – which says it all.

Mother, writer, artist… just a few of your many roles. What do you do to unplug? What inspires you?

Not enough. Really. I have been flying solo with the kids, and without a real support system, so I have been awful and negligent of the time and space a grown woman needs to recharge. But then, who really gets that kind of “me time”? It is a rare and lucky thing on this planet. So I do my best to try and be kind wherever I go, to steal away the beauty of those little exchanges in the world that make us feel connected and understood. I unplug by finding joy with my kids. I breathe them in and it is better than any massage with aromatherapy I’ve never had. My greatest love in the whole world, without a pulse, is a wonderful book. So I read like a maniac, and hope I pass that on to my children, that fierce love for words and thoughts that give me insight into the worlds and minds and experience of other humans. My piano has been in storage for about a year, and I miss it, as it was always the thing to loosen the taught wire that stress makes of me. But I still sing all day, and feel lucky that my daughter is picking up that very same love, and that harmonies make all the sense in the world to us.

I never know what will inspire me. When my son was a young toddler, and he would get edgy, we would watch “Tree of Life” together, the Terrence Malick film. It did some kind of magic to both of us. People inspire me, in their trying and hurting and love and truth, stories in real life and fiction, the feeling of love that hooks in my throat, music made with passion.

If you had an entire day to spend with your family unplugging, what would that look like?

An entire day to spend unplugging would in dream world, be spent on an airplane to Europe. Seeing the world, being together to make sense of it, with fresh air and no schedule would be heaven.

Share with us a recent experience that you and your children shared while unplugging.

We love to drive out to Point Reyes, which by some miracle, is essentially up the street. About a half hour drive, really, but you enter another world on the way. It is quiet and vast and wild and soft at once. We are not the kind of family who brings chairs and toys to the beach. We just bring ourselves, a blanket, and open eyes and hearts, walk on the dunes, run, get wet and excited and terrified at the Pacific. We have spent many a precious day out there, driving back at sunset, tired, salty and content.

You have captured so many beautiful images, it’s hard to have a favorite. If you were to have a favorite image, which one would it be and why?

This one is the one. She is ethereal and magical and soars. She comes from somewhere else and I see it in this photo. This is what it feels like to know her.

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 Do you and your children have some favorite books? You know what I’m talking about, the ones that get asked to be read over and over again. If so, which ones?

We are a reading people. When you read you learn empathy, insight, quiet, independence, and anything you want. I wholly agree with John Water’s very adult quote about getting a sense of people and whether you could connect, based upon their bookshelves. My daughter has been in the land of solo reading since before kindergarten, but some of my favorite read aloud books for her were Madeline L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle In Time” series. There is so much mystical truth in those books. Right now my little boy is obsessed with the exquisitely illustrated “Atlas of Adventures” by Lucy Letherland, only in press in the UK I think. Other favorites of his are “Once Upon An Alphabet”, Oliver Jeffers, all of the Usborne books, “Zen Shorts”, John Muth, “Flotsam”, David Wiesner, ALL of Mem Fox’s and Shirley Hughes’ books…but it could go on infinitely. But it’s quality in our house. Reading junk to me is the equivalent of watching crummy television. We have but one life, and it feels good to fill it with good things.

Do you have a favorite quote? Author? Poet?

My own favorite authors or books…this year’s best was “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt. And upon finishing I devoured her other two books. Another favorite contemporary author is Colum McCann. “Let the Great World Spin” is a masterpiece in my book. And Anne Lamott, who actually lives in my small town, is such an honest, truthful rebel. I love poetry, and my taste is diverse, Rumi to Mary Oliver. Joan Didion describes what it feels like to think and feel better than any person I have come across. In our old kitchen, I had a printed and framed quote on the wall, “let the beauty we love be what we do”. I could recite that whole Rumi poem along with many others – ingrained in my heart since I was fifteen.

We know that unplugging is good for the mind and encourages creativity and imagination but lets be honest, electronics are awesome too and such a vital part of our daily lives. How do you find balance for your children? For yourself? Do you set guidelines?

First guideline, we don’t have a TV. Which is not to say we don’t watch anything. We have a computer, obviously, and we watch good movies. And not all rated G, saccharine stuff. I want my kids to know the world, the depth of it, what art looks like, what films can make you feel and think. My kids know that junk won’t work in our life, and are surprising and hilarious critics of pop culture. Neither or them has an ipad, though my daughter just got a hand me down emergency phone. She doesn’t keep it charged, and the last time I saw her get a text she rolled her eyes. It stresses her out. “I’m a real life girl”, she says, accurately. The kids have a once in a blue moon Minecraft session on my ipad. And in full disclosure and the beautiful spirit of honesty, I confess to being obsessed with “True Detective”, “Mad Men”, “Breaking Bad”, and these days “The Wire” which I somehow missed, even having grown up in Baltimore, but only after becoming hooked on the “Serial”podcast from NPR’s “This American Life”. There, I said it.

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About Amy Grace, A Beautiful Life Photo, based in California | Blog | Facebook | Instagram

 


Childhood Unplugged Features Sharon McKeeman

She is a wife, mother, photographer and teacher among other titles I’m sure. So honored to be featuring Sharon McKeeman on the blog today!

I first came across Sharon’s work through checking out her self-paced online class through The Define School Lessons From The Masters.” Since then, I have fallen in love with her writing and storytelling through photography. She shoots digital but I absolutely love the way she captures the perfectly imperfect moments with film. Being a mother to only boys like me, I feel like we have this silent camaraderie. She gets it. The wild, adventurous, never standing still life of raising boys.

Welcome Sharon to Childhood Unplugged!

 

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I know that your photography revolves around capturing your story. Tell me a bit about your unique story.

I first fell in love with images while exploring my Grandparents’ basket of old National Geographics and Life magazines and watching slideshows and super-eight video of their adventures. As a child I imagined and created as a way to enter a more exciting world. Then in college I studied drawing and painting, and became an art teacher.

I picked up a digital camera for the first time as a young mom and long time artist. My hours spent painting were quickly becoming a foggy memory as all my time poured into my new life as a mother. When I did make images, I wanted to document this baffling, exhilarating new experience of motherhood in real time.

As my children grew, I explored and learned this new medium of photography. Then after losing a son during birth I didn’t want to waste one minute of precious life doing anything other than what filled my heart and made my artwork feel powerful and alive to me. I spent my time photographing what was in my soul and before my eyes, eventually beginning a business where I capture the art of my client’s story right in the midst of the beautiful mess of everyday life. Recently I lost another baby during my second trimester. These losses have been so difficult, but our family is healing through time spent outdoors adventuring, exploring books, and discovering together as we homeschool.

What are some of your boys favorite activities to do unplugged?

We spend countless hours at the beach, read books together daily, build science projects and forts, re-enact scenes from our history lessons, visit our friends in the mountains, ride bikes to the abandoned field to search for ‘treasures’, nature journal, make crazy art projects, build Lego empires, and the list could go on, and on…

You wear many hats; mom, teacher, photographer, wife… What do you do to unplug and refuel. What inspires you?

Constant exploration in image making energizes me! If my artistic journey begins to feel static or predictable I search for something that will inspire me, instinctively looking for a ‘rule’ to break. My boys keep me adventuring and I love new experiences, but I also need quiet time at home in the routine of our daily lives to refuel. Reading fills my heart with the inspiration to keep my image making fresh and invest into my children’s lives. And writing is a form of prayer to me, spilling out my thoughts and feelings to my Creator, and sharing these words with others in order to connect with community. I also love teaching. Homeschooling is filled with magic and difficulty every single day. Teaching and writing classes for The Define School is an incredible outlet for me as someone who is passionate about art and loves to teach.

If you had an entire day to spend with your family unplugged, what would that look like?

Well, we spend many days unplugged so I will describe one… On the weekends we start off with my husband making pancakes and scrambled eggs or we grab donuts at our favorite shop. Then we head to the beach for an early surf sesh. The older boys surf with Dad while my four year old and I play in the whitewater. Afterwards we eat lunch at an outdoor coffee shop or have a picnic at a local garden or park. Then we head home where the kids build crazy contraptions in the garage and play games with the neighborhood kids while I edit images or write. If it’s warm enough we spend some time doing belly flop contests at the pool. And then everyone pitches in to grill dinner or sometimes we grab pizza or burritos, and head back to the beach to watch the sunset. We end the day snuggled up reading books before we tuck the boys in with goodnight songs and a tickle fest. I’m so thankful for all these magical times with my kids, but just to keep it real if that description sounded picturesque – The day is also sprinkled generously with kid’s arguments, complaints and grouchiness, but that’s real life lived and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Share with us a recent unplugged experience that you and your family shared.

Another special unplugged experience that we have somewhat frequently is when we drive up to visit our friends who live on a mountain about two hours away. Those days are filled with the kids making forts, climbing trees, playing in their hammock and tipi, shooting bows and arrows, hiking, finding pinecones and animal bones, building Legos, craft projects, visiting lookout spots, lakes and nature centers, and riding scooters and bikes. My oldest two boys also go on a campout every month with their Dad and hundreds of other Dads and their boys through a YMCA program. These campouts are epic and I’m so thankful that their memories will be flooded with these adventures with their Dad.

Share with us one of your favorite images of all times and why?

On one of our trips up the mountain with our friends, we drove up a dirt rode as a thunderstorm was approaching. I’m not a fan of heights, but the drive was worth the view as the storm approached us at the top of the tree line. My oldest is stoic, a man of the wild already. He doesn’t like to have his picture taken, but in this moment he was in his element and wanted me to document it.

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Unplugging is so important and I know you do a lot of that with your boys, but electronics are awesome too! They are a vital part of our life. What rules do you have for watching television, playing on the computer, etc.? How do you find balance in both worlds.

We don’t have strict rules about time spent on electronics because my boys honestly want to be outside and spending time creating more than they want to be in front of a screen. I’m so thankful for this. I think a big reason they feel this way is that we spend SO much time outside exploring, that it’s in their heart. Also we just don’t have devices at home for them to play on.

We only have one TV, and we don’t have cable. Our kids are allowed to watch good movies and they love the Discovery channel on Netflix. We have an iMac that they use for code.org, a few reading programs and Keyboarding without Tears. These programs teach the kids so much and also feel like fun video games to them. The rest of their schoolwork we complete using pencil, paper, books and hands on activities. I often find my oldest using the computer to look up designs for his current building projects or to watching tutorials on making origami animals.

I think we may be the only homeschool family that doesn’t own an iPad for our kids to use. We have the oldest Xbox made and only have one game for it. My kids are allowed to play video games at their friends’ houses, but they honestly want to spend our resources on surfboards, skateboards and campouts more than they want video games. We try to find a balance where they understand and appreciate computers and good media, but the only way I personally know to keep them playing make believe and exploring outside is to not have an abundance of screens in our home.

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www.sharonmckeeman.com

www.sharonmckeemanblog.com

handle on Instagram is @sharonmckeeman

www.facebook.com/pages/Sharon-McKeeman-Photography/90512182934


Childhood Unplugged Features Ginger Unzueta

It is such an honor to have Ginger Unzueta as our second featured guest here on Childhood Unplugged!

The first time I came across Ginger’s photography was when I discovered the Kids Were Here blog. Since then I have become a great admirer of the way she captures the everyday and unplugged moments in the lives of her children. Ginger wears many hats and one of them is as a teacher over at The Bloom Forum where she teaches her online class called Everyday Beauty.

It has been wonderful getting to know her heart through conversation on social media. Being that she is a fellow Floridian, my hopes are that some day we can actually meet in person.

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Your photography is centered around your family’s everyday storytelling. Tell me a little bit about the moment you knew this was so important to you.

I’ve always loved pictures and have always had a camera. Like many other mothers, my children really ignited the passion in ways I hadn’t known before. I wanted to tell their story and to tell it in a beautiful way.  In addition, my husband is a U.S. Marine and is often gone on deployments.  I became passionate about capturing the everyday of my family so that my husband could relive these special moments through our pictures and stories.  He continues to tell me that our pictures are such gifts to him.

There is beauty to be found in every day. I feel that God has given me this gift and passion for His glory. I pray that I will honor Him in all I do.

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

We live in Florida on a lake and spend time by the water frequently. Our children love to swim, kayak, and fish. Most afternoons you will find them playing in the backyard. Our children love to use their imaginations and often make up plays or games together. They also each play soccer for the local soccer club. We love to go for walks and bike rides and also enjoy going to parks. Our oldest daughter loves to spend time reading, baking, and crafting. Our son loves to draw and build with Legos. Our youngest daughter can often be found painting, playing with her baby dolls, or dancing around the house. She also loves to help mama in the kitchen whenever she can.

 Being the busy Mom that you are, what are YOUR favorite ways to unplug? What inspires you?

I enjoy reading in my free time. I also enjoy anytime we can get outside and explore or spend time by the water. I love to sit on the back porch or down by the lake and spend time with friends or family. I love slow days where we can linger.

If there was a magical place to spend your day unplugged with your family, what would that day look like?

A magical day would be spent somewhere with sunshine, water and our family all together.

Share with us a recent unplugged experience that you and your family shared.

We enjoy family time unplugged daily.  I love the benefits of technology and social media, but I think it should be used in moderation. One of my favorite memories with our family is from last summer. We spent a week in the mountains of Georgia. It was a beautiful time, just the five of us, exploring and experiencing new things together. It was a week I will never forget.

Share with us one of your favorite images of all times and why?

I took this image a year ago. It is still one of my favorites. Annually, we spend a week at the beach with my parents, siblings and all the cousins. This place holds many special memories for each of us.  

I know that most of your time together with your children is spent unplugged, but I’m sure your children do spend some time watching television or playing with electronics. How do you find that balance?

We are a homeschooling family and much of our time at home during the day is spent learning, creating, and exploring together. Our children do enjoy time on the iPad playing games or watching TV, but it is limited. We limit, not only the time spent watching television, but the shows that they are permitted to watch. In addition, none of our children have their own iPhone or iPad to use. Any time spent on these devices is shared between all three children. There have been many holidays and special events my husband has had to miss while he was deployed with the military. I am so grateful that through technology we have been able to include him via video chat and email. I am grateful for the benefits electronic devices can bring into our lives.

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Childhood Unplugged Welcomes Dera Frances White

We are beyond thrilled to have Dera Frances White as our first guest here on Childhood Unplugged!

I first came across Dera’s blog through following You Are My Wild; a weekly portrait project that brings together 14 photographers to document how they see their children.

I was immediately captivated by her stories and images. She has a way with words that leave you nodding your head in agreement as you are reading and laughing out loud by yourself because you can relate to every word that she wrote. Dera lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband and two daughters Fiona, 10 and Neve, 8.

Thank you Dera for taking the time to answer a few questions and sharing a handful of your lovely images. You can find more of Dera’s stories and photos on her blog at derafrances.blogspot.com

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How long have you been a photographer? 

I have been doing film photography since high school.  My dad was a photography teacher, so we always had great cameras and access to dark rooms on hand.  I was a dual major in college- experimental video and photography.  But I’ve only been doing digital photography in the workplace since 2010.

What do you enjoy doing unplugged? 

We draw A LOT.  It seems to be our default mode around here.  Bored?   Draw.  Angry at sister?  Draws mean pictures of sister.  Happy? Draws sister & self as princesses.  That sort of thing.  I find these epic books they’ve made lying around the house all the time.  I hope they never stop making them.  My husband is an artist and designer, and he’s always lost in his sketchbook.  Since we met in art college… that blasted sketchbook and guitar.  Personally, I don’t do nearly enough of the things I love on the daily- sewing, photography, general art making- so I try to pour my creativity in those things that are built into my day already- cooking, writing (blogging specifically), making a nice house, and creative parenting, aka experimental parenting.  Haha- you can use your imagination with that one.

Things you enjoy doing with your children? 

We love driving into the mountains.  We’ve got our favorite little destination spots- a friend with a farm, overlooks perfect for picnics at sunset, dusty roads with friendly horses, bubbly creeks in the summer, and a circuit of great roadside produce stands in the spring, summer, and fall.  In the winter, we just hibernate and eat cookies, and gripe like Southerners about 40-50 degree weather.  We often bake together, and sometimes we even get crafty.  I’m sad to say that my girls are growing out of the fairy thing, but we used to LOVE making fairy houses out of sticks and moss and stones.  We would put them under our favorite trees in the yard, adorned with acorns or flowers, and wait to see if there was any evidence of fairy activity.  Pretty magical times.

Personal projects that you do? 

Last year was my first collaborative photo project, the “You Are My Wild” project.  It was intimidating at first, being thrown in the mix with 13 super talented photogs from all over.  But in time, the project became quite meaningful to me in many ways.  I fell in love with the other kids, waiting for their faces to appear each week.  I fell in love with their parents and the way they saw their children; a few who I had the privilege of meeting during the course of the year.  And I fell in love with the idea of making meaningful time with my own children every week, with or without the camera.  If you can set aside intentional time with them, there’s almost always a good photo-op built into those moments.  (The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly).

What is your favorite style of photography? 

Glamour Shots.

Just kidding.  I guess if I had to pick a style I would choose photojournalism, but only because it’s inherently best at storytelling.  I just like visual stories.  Even if things have been styled a bit.  I am a narrative junkie, in any medium.  I would take ugly & gritty but captivating any day over pretty & clean but sterile.

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We are happy to announce that we will begin featuring others right here on our Childhood Unplugged blog! That’s right! If this is something you are interested in, please head on over to Submissions in the menu bar and check it out!