Art

When I Finally Developed My Daughter’s Camera, Her Photos Took My Breath Away

It began, as so many things do these days, with a nudge that turned into a whine. Ima. Eeeeeemmmmaaaaa. When are you going to charge my camera for me?

Orli, my older daughter, has her own camera, a small Fisher Price deal that takes relatively fuzzy pictures–especially given how crisp digital images are these days–unless the light is absolutely perfect. I thought buying it was a mistake.“Why are we giving her a camera that doesn’t even work well?” I wondered, at the time.

It was late last spring, and Orli was in that strange space pre-school age children get into when they are anticipating a sibling they desperately want, and yet, on some level, understand will upend their lives. She wanted a camera. Very, very much. And so we got her this guy, with its sturdy, drop-me-I’ll-be-fine thick plastic walls. It is pink and white. I hated it.

Orli loved it, schlepped it everywhere she went, constantly snapping photos. It went in her bag to school and then in her bag to camp and then back to school once more; somehow it survived being nestled alongside wet swimsuits and moldy bagels.



Now and again she would ask, Ima, put the pictures on your computer, like yours. But I was busy, and so I would forget. And then the new baby came, my book was due, we moved from apartment to house, and, so, of course, I forgot everything. And then, as all things electronic do, it stopped working. The batteries were dead.

Ima charge my camera for me. And still I forgot. Or, maybe more true: still I pushed it off. Eeeemmmaaaaa. My camera still doesn’t work. Did you find the cable for it yet? Can you make it work. Eeeemmaaaa pleeeeaaase.

Until the other day.

Feeling slightly more awake than usual, I industriously hunted around, found a USB cord that worked, and so, finally connected her Fisher Price guy to my computer. Up popped three hundred or so photos that marked the fourth year of Orli’s life. And then, as the cliché goes, everything around me seemed to hold still for a moment.



The photos were a wonder. Joyful. Imprecise. A jumble. A good several dozen are not at all crisp, as I’d groused, upon purchase. But many are, objectively, beautiful. And even the blurry images are so marvelous, so, really there’s no better word, magical, the perspective so plainly that of a child that their pixel quality falls away and only her sense of space remains: Kids are perfectly located in each frame. They mug for each other, smiling, unencumbered by their grown-up overseers. They are unobserved except by each other, and so, therefore, they are free-er than we ever see them. Adults are enormous, out of proportion. Women whom I know not to be tall loom high, their heads far away; many aren’t looking at the photographer at all – they are talking, I realized, to me or to others and not to Orli. She had quietly photographed those that ignored her, noted her only slightly, even as she documented them, in their casual malevolence.



Ima, these are my best friends. They are? I wondered, looking at children I’d never seen before, but, ah yes, there are the kids from her gan (preschool) class. Others were those I’d never met, camp friends I’d missed in my summer new-baby fog. I remembered some of the moments, remembered my hazy connection to life in June and July and August.



Here is her friend Silas, with his own camera, taking photos of Orli taking photos, and here is Orli herself. Are they selfies? Are her friends taking her photo? I don’t know. Here are craft tables at summer camp, tables I never saw because I never did pick up as I healed from birthing her baby sister and headed straight back to work. Here are the costumes at gan, the teachers, here is the wall where you hang your coats.



Random wonderful details shot from different angles: the edge of a building, the way Orli’s bedroom walls look when you sit on her floor: a painting she made with her grandfather, the quilt a friend of my mother’s made upon Orli’s birth. Here is the shiny curved toe of a woman’s shoe with its designer label conspicuously large. Here are pages of an “Olivia” book, taken because Orli liked the illustrations so much she decided they were worthy of a different image, of a kind of testimony. Here is what the water looks like when it comes out of the spout. Here is the laundry hanging to dry.



Here, now, again, is another woman talking to me in the street, not seeing Orli beneath her. Here are Orli’s summer teachers, lecturing, it seems, arms outstretched, they seem so tall. Ima this is Spanish camp, and this is English camp. A dozen images of flowers, the blooms from her grandmother’s patio-garden; here are her grandparents, my in-laws, enormously tall; here is her new baby sister, screaming, here she is yawning, here she is peering around the edge of her car seat. Here are my parents laughing, here am I, my under-eye circles deep and profound. Here now, is the street we lived on until the middle of October.



Here they are, these 300 odd moments. Each a chance to see the world through Orli’s eyes. Child-filled. Art-filled. Details-filled. The photos packed with things I miss, everywhere I step, all the small pieces of life that I scurry past – a sign that reads rest-rooms. Adults, tall and unaware. A secular Narnia. An Orli world.

*All photos courtesy of Orli Wildman Halpern*




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Sarah WildmanSarah Wildman writes about the intersection of culture, politics and travel for the New York Times and the Guardian. To read more work by Sarah Wildman, visit www.sarahwildman.com

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