Portraits. The traditional head-and-shoulders study or eyes-straight-down-the-camera is something with which we are all familiar. In photographing children there is something to be said for capturing a more ‘editorial style’ of portrait. They are changing and growing so fast; a photographic portrait of a child should tell the story of their development in that moment in time as much as their physical appearance.
Which brings me to my daughter. Our gorgeous girl is a worrier. I see it in her because I know it in myself. Ironically, this makes me worry for her even more because I understand how crippling anxiety can be. It can stop you moving, stop you trying and scare you into inaction. It can steal your confidence, make you shun new experiences and isolate you from the world.
Our girl has always been enamoured with ballet and ballerinas. We tried Tiny Tutus when she was four. She loved it until she realised the class was practicing for an end-of-year performance. She became terrified and tears preceded each lesson. She feigned sickness. She screamed. Most classes involved her sitting on my lap, upset and devastated because she wanted to join in but unable to make herself do so. Her teacher and friends tried to help and encourage her to no avail. She folded in on herself and never found her way out. It became so traumatic we stopped going.
This year, two years later, she wanted to try again. I rang 5 ballet schools before I found one that didn’t take itself too seriously or require 6 year olds to attend twice-weekly lessons and take formal exams.
I watched our girl gather her strength, amass her army and march into a room full of strangers. Through her tears and fears, she moved forward. She began to enjoy herself. The class practiced for a recital and she didn’t fall apart because it wasn’t a big deal. They had lessons in leotards, in pyjamas, with their teddy. No costumes, no pressure, just fun.
Yesterday we were due at Lake Macquarie Performing Arts Centre. A different day and different location for a group lesson before the informal recital. About an hour before we had to leave, our girl fell apart. She went to the toilet five times in a row. She cried. She begged to stay home but wailed because she wanted to dance. My partner and I used every trick in the book to distract her and help her move through it all.
As a result, we arrived late. All the girls were already practicing onstage. Without the benefit of playing beforehand with her ballet-buddies, our girl was overwhelmed and faced with a new place, a big stage, a growing panic. I could tell she wanted to cuddle and hide but she took the hand of her teacher and agreed to stand behind the scenes and watch for a while. Eventually she walked out on stage and took her place.
And so – this image. This is the moment my girl decided to conquer her fear. This is the moment she made a brave decision, walked out on stage, gazed up at the curtains, the lights and mapped her new surroundings. This is the moment she found her courage.
I love this shot. Without the story, this image is still an interesting glimpse in time of a dance class. Yet this moment is everything for my girl. An important step in a more courageous life. I couldn’t be prouder.