Emily Ulmer Photography

June 17, 2010

I’m pretty much in love with the children’s photography of Emily Ulmer. Something about the light makes me crave a trip to L.A. What do you think of it? Do these feel fresh to you? Or do you prefer something more traditional?

P.S. — Looking for fun stuff to do with your kids this summer? Check this out: Skip to My Lou has put together a Craft Camp. It’s a series of 30 kids crafts from 30 different bloggers. Lots of very cute ideas! I love this marshmellow building idea. My potato print craft was included too.

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{ 63 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jenny June 17, 2010 at 12:10 pm

I like the look of the photos but I wish there were more smiles… at least in a few of them, you know?

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2 Jo June 17, 2010 at 12:14 pm

They are certainly original and creative. But I don’t feel like the kids’ *kidness* is represented, you know? A little more joy is called for in documenting childhood!

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3 dani June 17, 2010 at 12:18 pm

Hmm, I like the styling and the light in the photos but otherwise I don’t really dig it. Some of the photos actually gave me the mild creeps.

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4 Kelly June 17, 2010 at 12:27 pm

My son is always smiling so I am disturbed by the lack of smiles on the kids. We recently had family photos taken by a young yet extremely talented photographer named Jeramie Shoda. You can check out his work at http://www.shodaphotography.com. He prefers to take candid shots of family interacting. I loved how our photos turned out.

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5 Design Mom June 17, 2010 at 12:41 pm

So glad you love how your photos turned out, Kelly. Isn’t it nice to find a photographer you like working with?

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6 Naomi June 17, 2010 at 12:36 pm

Lovely photos, would look great in a magazine shoot, but I agree with previous posters that they are too sad for family photos. These kids look downright griefstricken.

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7 Design Mom June 17, 2010 at 12:39 pm

It’s true, there is something very editorial about the shots. They would be great in a magazine or kids clothing catalog.

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8 Design Mom June 17, 2010 at 12:39 pm

So fun hearing your responses. It’s interesting to see the strong reactions. I’m all for smiley kiddos, but I’m loving that the kids are relaxed in these shots. They look thoughtful to me.

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9 Susan (5 Minutes for Mom) June 17, 2010 at 12:45 pm

Artistic and thought provoking, but I sure wouldn’t want a family album full of shots like that.

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10 Heather June 17, 2010 at 12:54 pm

There is a sweetness to some of these, and beautiful light in most, but I agree that there is a definite lack of range in the emotions of childhood that she chooses to capture. If she’s doing it for an art show, great, more power to her and I’d go and enjoy it immensely. But I would never choose her to photograph my toddler.

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11 Genevieve June 17, 2010 at 12:56 pm

Yikes, these are depressing and kind of creepy?

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12 Nancy June 17, 2010 at 1:03 pm

They’re certainly interesting, but is it just me or are these shots out of focus?

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13 Kate Skogen June 17, 2010 at 1:12 pm

any photo that looks timeless is the ultimate success! i love the lighting in the photos. sure, a few of them could be a little more upbeat (just the ones where the kids are looking directly at the camera), but it’s really great to see something out of the norm! thanks for sharing!

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14 petit vogue (children's fashion blog) June 17, 2010 at 1:21 pm

I agree with the others, I LOVE the style, it’s very fashion magazine esque. Has some nice vintage style going on, love the relaxed nature of the poses….but yes, the lack of smiles makes me sad. I think some of them look less “thoughtful” and more “abandoned”. I think if she directed a shoot that played off of the devious angle of childhood it could be absolutely brilliant, but I don’t really care much for the aloof manner in which the kids are portrayed in this particular shoot. Still, if you’re not experimenting and trying new things then what’s the point?

Great post!

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15 Sarah Wert June 17, 2010 at 1:25 pm

I love this work, Gabrielle. I’m actually a children’s portrait photographer in San Francisco and while I take many photos of smiles, I prefer to represent kids in a way that shows their varied emotions. It feels like a more accurate depiction of the dramatic lives they tend to lead. They are not all smiles and that’s just fine.

Emily’s work is really lovely, quiet, and thought-provoking. Glad to see you featured her!

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16 emily June 17, 2010 at 1:31 pm

The colors are lovely and while I agree that a few look a little melancholy, on the whole, they have a refined sweetness that I really line – and a refreshing change from so much of the super sweet kid photos out there.

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17 andrea June 17, 2010 at 1:45 pm

I love the styling !! The mood? Not so much. Just like everyone else, I wonder where the smiles are. I think if these photos were a little lighter and happier, they would be awesome. I really do not like the more traditional children’s photos and I am definitely drawn to more experimental types of photo shoots, but despite my open mind, I still would love to see some smiles!

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18 Kate June 17, 2010 at 1:49 pm

Kids don’t have to be all grins, but I agree with the previous commenter who described these children as looking downright griefstricken.

To me, the best children’s portraits capture the true personality or spirit of the child. My daughter was a very serious/non-smiley baby, and I have a straight faced portrait of her at age 7 months that I love, because it’s so true.

Many of these look a bit forced/stiff for my taste, though. The lighting in a few of them is quite nice, though.

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19 jessica g June 17, 2010 at 1:52 pm

The strong reactions are quite interesting! I think it comes from the fact that Emily has a very strong look she is capturing that is not expected from children’s photography. I think if you were to get rid of the first and third shot, the thoughtful child-like nature is more evident. There is definitely something robotic about those two shots that bother me – they seem void of emotion. From the shot of the toddler with sun setting through the window on down, they are really quite beautiful, innocent and full of emotion.

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20 Alexis June 17, 2010 at 1:53 pm

They make me think of Dwell magazine…like these are the kids that live in the houses in that magazine.

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21 Dena June 17, 2010 at 2:02 pm

Some of them are cute, but some are a little strange. Too serious and perhaps a little depressing. I think they all seem to capture that same theme, rather than portray other emotions.

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22 jen June 17, 2010 at 2:14 pm

what’s up? is it me or do they all look like depressed eastern european kids.

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23 BC June 17, 2010 at 2:30 pm

I can appreciate the artistry there but I would probably opt for a different style for my kids. If I’m going to spend the money to have professional photos done, I want the photos to show their true personalities…..which is generally joyful. These kids look like they have the weight of the world on them.

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24 Sarah June 17, 2010 at 2:40 pm

Bwa ha ha! Sorry, but these pics make me LOL. What’s up? Is life so bad? I like seeing people relaxed and comfortable, even thoughtful, but a handful of these look like they are going to their grave.

That being said the majority are quite lovely. It’s just those outliers….

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25 Anne June 17, 2010 at 2:52 pm

I would LOVE to see the unhappy hipsters blogger caption these.
(see unhappyhipsters.com and you’ll know what I mean)

Also, the one on the stairs is going to give me nightmares. RedRum!

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26 Kim June 17, 2010 at 2:52 pm

These photos are kind-a creepy. The kids look too sullen for me!

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27 hyzen June 17, 2010 at 3:04 pm

Well, I think these are very cool, and thanks for sharing them! I agree I wouldn’t want my family albums to be FULL of them, but it would be awesome to have some of these very stylish shots mixed in with the more usual fare. A lot of these look like vintage movie stills to me–like there’s some history and story behind them–and that’s lovely. The ones with the two short-haired girls are actually my favorites, and I think those might be some of the ones that people are calling “grief-stricken.” But I tend to agree with those who think they look more thoughtful, or solemn, or something. Kids really do have rich emotional lives, and it’s interesting to see that represented in a less traditional way.

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28 Wendy @ The Shabby Nest June 17, 2010 at 3:39 pm

As a mother, AND a photographer all I can say is sometimes smiles are overrated. But I must admit, that the serious expressions on these kids seem a bit forced. I like to capture the contemplative or musing-type expressions of children. The natural serious expressions. Of course, smiles are great too…but let’s face it, kids don’t smile all the time. My favorite Christmas card photo we ever sent out was one where my two oldest children (both toddlers at the time) were crying. Our caption on the card? “Joy to the World!” It was seriously funny. And the picture was adorable. But, I’ll admit that not everyone “understood”.

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29 Kelly June 17, 2010 at 3:47 pm

I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks these photos are depressing. They remind me of a boring summer day with nothing to do but watch TV. Blah!

I’m not hatin’ – just wanted to share my opinion. It’s not just the lack of smiles, it’s the trying to fit kids into a grownup world.

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30 Bri June 17, 2010 at 4:04 pm

I like the one of the little boy in the miliraty-style jacket. Reminds me of the Beatles and marching band.
Not a fan of the expressionless faces. I don’t like face paint, masks, or porcelain dolls either.

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31 Karolyn veselka June 17, 2010 at 5:25 pm

Fantastic. They make quite a statement as an essay, especially when people are forced to confront the fact that although we love to see children smiling, they aren’t ALWAYS doing so, nor are they ALWAYS happy. People want pictures of things the way they want to remember them. So pictures that don’t reflect the happy-go-lucky childhood we hope to present to others can be quite unsettling. Bravo for capturing the silence and stillness in childhood we often forget about in our go-go-go adulthood.

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32 Celeste June 17, 2010 at 5:54 pm

They are interesting, but something is off-to me these kids look inanimate. It’s not that they aren’t smiling, it’s that there is nothing going on in their eyes. Not my cuppa!

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33 Emily June 17, 2010 at 5:56 pm

I think those children look extremely unhappy. What’s wrong with smiling? Not hip enough?

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34 naomi June 17, 2010 at 6:07 pm

I have to concur with most everyone else – these don’t do much for me. They seem posed but trying not to look posed. I don’t think children have to be perfectly coiffed in a portrait, but the two disheveled blond girls do look like they’re waiting to be picked up by children and family services. They do look more like something you’d see in a clothing catalog or a magazine ad.

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35 sarah m June 17, 2010 at 9:14 pm

Aside from my feelings about the overall impact of the photography, I have to say that the clothing in these pictures is lovely! I just wonder how much the images rely on “fashion” and how they would look if the kids were wearing ugly clothes.

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36 beyond June 17, 2010 at 9:15 pm

i think these are artsy without trying too hard. in a good way. i love that they are not the usual smile-say-cheese photos! they have a nice vintage feel to them.

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37 bethenny June 17, 2010 at 9:38 pm

I have to agree with the other posters about them being creepy and I think that’s what she was going for, that hipster-we’re too cool to smile-vibe. Bu aside from that the actual photography is not good. They look like they were taken with a point and shoot by an amatuer. The poses look forced, the composition isn’t interesting, the lighting is average, and they need a little post processing. There are some really good photographers in the LA area with the same kind of vibe but better execution.

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38 Teresa June 17, 2010 at 11:22 pm

Emily has demonstrated her ability and talent as a true artist as evidenced by the strong range of emotions her photographs have elicited. Congratulations and keep taking photos!

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39 shelley June 17, 2010 at 11:24 pm

I love her style. Thank you for sharing. Thought provoking and narrative, each photo tells its own story. Big sister teasingly poking a finger into her little sister’s tummy all whilst keeping a deadpan face is just perfect. I do agree that they look more like fine art photography than children’s portraits. They’re refreshing and unique.

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40 Emily Ulmer June 17, 2010 at 11:39 pm

I’ve been reading all of your comments and they’re incredibly interesting and
I truly appreciate hearing all of the different opinions of my work, especially from mothers! Of course I know not everyone will care for my style and/or aesthetic.
In my photographs, I am attempting to show the beauty of childhood in its most natural state— without the filter of an adult’s interpretation of what that looks like. Taking a different approach, I’m trying to experience what their world is like, looking from the child’s unique perspective and not over-romanticizing childhood– which is what is often done in children’s portraiture. And yes, my photography is definitely more editorial/art photography than family photo album-style. When I shoot, I let the children dictate the mood, so I rarely tell them what expression to give me. The two sisters with the pixie hair cuts were both mature beyond their years and those were their natural poses. Anyway,
I just wanted to let everyone know a bit about what my approach is to my work.

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41 Design Mom June 17, 2010 at 11:49 pm

What a treat that you chimed in, Emily. So glad to hear a little bit about your approach. Thank you so much for sharing your photos with us and letting us discuss them.

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42 Elisabeth@YCCII June 18, 2010 at 3:04 pm

Count me in as a big fan Emily. There’s a quiet beauty to these photos. Hardly depressing in the least, but pensive and nostalgic.

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43 kim June 18, 2010 at 6:01 pm

I can appreciate what others are saying, but I think that these portraits are lovely. Natural and gentle, not cutesy and “pink and blue”. Thanks for sharing – I am certainly inspired for taking these kind of portraits of my own children.

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44 Lindsey June 18, 2010 at 6:55 pm

Emily, I really love your work. I took a second to peruse your website. Truly lovely photos. I don’t agree with the all the comments about having smiley pictures. My kids DO NOT smile at me when I’m taking their pictures. If they do, it looks forced. I love the natural look of the kids in these pictures. Keep it up!

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45 Sharon June 18, 2010 at 6:03 am

I love them, even though the first one looks a little Children of the Corn. The lighting is beautiful, evoking a quietness that is often not present in photos of children.

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46 Amanda June 18, 2010 at 7:32 am

Thank you so much for sharing this work. I think when children reveal more awareness and wisdom of both themselves and their surroundings it can be unsettling… explaining most of the reactions here to Emily’s work. As adults we like to think of children as being unaffected by the world around them, prancing and smiling through without a care or concern. Emily has captured exactly what we don’t want not to see in children- what we fear when we see them thinking harder than we want them to. Their wisdom. Their perspectives. Their knowledge of an imperfect world. The power of their youth. As viewers, we somehow gain insight into how this little person will grow up. Fine art is meant to disturb, probe, provoke and based on all of these comments, Emily has succeeded in producing work that does just that.
Congratulations.

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47 jewels June 18, 2010 at 10:17 am

I think they are stunning. Your opinions and your comments are what bore me. “My child is always smiling and happy.” uggghhhh! Emily for President!

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48 Erin June 18, 2010 at 10:33 am

I don’t mind photos with a range of emotions–after all, I have a screamer, so I get more of that than smiling. That’s the way she is right now, and these are memories we’re making. I’m sure we’ll laugh about it one day. That being said, however, I would rather look at a photo of her being happy–I agree with the commenter that said that there’s a certain sense of almost neglect going on in the photos.

The first half I could go without, the second half is better–more light, more relaxed. The first photo in particular looks like a more recent shot of Annie’s fellow orphans, sad and abandoned in their run-down building. Both the styling and expressions on the children help to accomplish that.

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49 Jen June 18, 2010 at 12:38 pm

I think the wonderful thing about photography is the ability to create and do what you want. To take a subject like children and do something so entirely different, it makes me people talk.
You don’t have to choose her work, that is the lovely things about choice. There are so many photographers out there. Choose the one that works best for you. And has the style you are looking for.
It is wonderful to me as a mom, when someone captures moments in passing with children. They are fleeting. And even if the kids are angry or, look annoyed, that is sometimes how it is.
So bravo, Emily. Work well done.

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50 Jen June 18, 2010 at 12:41 pm

I probably should of edited my comment – scratch “me” in the last sentence of the first paragraph and the s in “things” in the first sentence of the second paragraph.

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51 Allison Blass June 18, 2010 at 12:39 pm

If you go to her website, you’ll see more of a range of expressions for the kids, but they seem rather normal to me. Sometimes they are smiling, or acting goofy, two sisters hugging each other in the kitchen. This is just a sampling of the photos, not everything she’s done. Well done, I say!

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52 Mary-- The Yellow Door Paperie June 18, 2010 at 12:42 pm

I actually really liked these photos, there is a quietness and a ‘capture the moment’ infused in these shots. I don’t think we always have to have the hyper childhood–grass and bright clothes with equally bright smiles type shots. The last photo looks especially like she’s going to sink into that bed out of surrender to relaxation, and what’s wrong with that?

I think these would be great for a different shoot.

As everything in life, we need to balance. Show our kids at they’re happiest and at their quietest. But I don’t think unstyled hair equals neglect. I think it equals real life.

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53 Amber, theAmberShow June 18, 2010 at 12:50 pm

I like that the children are just being. They look thoughtful and like real people. It’s a refreshing shift from the frilly-silly clothes and exuberant smiles I often seen in photos of children. Those are rad, too, but these are great for showing that other side of the coin.

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54 Jessica June 18, 2010 at 1:05 pm

These are very interesting photos! I’m not sure it’s my style but I definitely appreciate the honest expressions and poses. I think the vintage clothes together with the seriousness of their faces makes them look prematurely sad/adult-like but probably that’s just the way adults read into it. Very thought provoking stuff! Thanks for sharing.

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55 Marissa June 18, 2010 at 3:16 pm

LOVED the style of photography….I am a huge fan of unstaged pics…but seriously, I kind of thought the kids looked like they were posing for a horror film. Kind of creeped me out with the blank stares. I love blank stares on kids in pics…but usually like them looking away from the camera better. But the photographer is definitely doing a style he/she loves and very distinct! I love that they aren’t the sit and pose cheesy shoots of old times…….

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56 Jaimie June 18, 2010 at 7:16 pm

I think these photos are beautiful, but I REALLY love their ensembles! Classy!

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57 Lani June 19, 2010 at 8:51 am

I’m happy to see other people kind of got the heebie jeebies from these pics. Looks like a bunch of unhappy orphans. These totally freaked me out.

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58 mjb June 19, 2010 at 1:37 pm

I love these. I bought a Japanese kids clothing pattern book one time because the kids had looks kind of like this – it makes you wonder what they’re thinking and realize the fact that kids have a deeper internal life than we realize when we only see them smiling.

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59 Marie August 31, 2011 at 3:24 am

I love it! I can imagine the children laughing in between takes, specially the two blonde little cuties! Clearly she’s an awesome photographer and even though she doesn’t showcase smiles, that doesn’t mean she can’t get it out of these children. In some pics the kids have a “Are we done yet, I’m bored” look. I don’t see anything creepy about these.

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60 Erin August 31, 2011 at 3:50 am

I don’t see anything wrong with these pictures! I think they’re beautiful. So what the children aren’t smiling……do your children smile 24/7? I know mine don’t! I’d rather see a few pictures portraying kids regular everyday lives, than a million pictures with fake smiles. Let em be!

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61 Anastasia August 31, 2011 at 10:10 pm

Love it! I bought a DSLR and pulled out my old photography text books when my son was two in order to take “real” pictures like these. I despise cheesy child photography! These are flawless!

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62 Pat T September 2, 2011 at 1:51 pm

I think they’re beautiful.

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63 lamoureuse September 4, 2011 at 6:49 pm

I LOVE these photographs! What a great find. I really felt as though the photographer was on the same wavelength as the kids, in a sense – being in their space, capturing them as they were, in that moment. These don’t feel like parent-directed snaps (I want you to get them doing this, or with their sister like that, now everybody smile!) I really appreciate the quiet pensiveness of many of these photos, and feel like we get an insight into the larger ‘personality’ within the child, rather than the huge forced grins that sometimes come out as the camera makes its appearance. We feel like we are supposed to ‘act’ or look a certain way in front of the camera (go ahead, next time someone lifts their lens – don’t you try to hide that extra roll, or stretch out the neck, or smile just so ? It’s so hard not to). These photos feel like a sliver of time where the children are children, but the photographer gives a glimpse into what they might also become. Fascinating.

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