Historic Photography by Kids

Teaching Art, Teaching Children  /   /  By William Rubel
Stone Soup Magazine
May 2019

The Kodak box camera, first produced in the 1880s, became the iconic camera for the amateur photographer. The camera was as easy to use as our phone camera’s. Point and shoot. Even a child could do it. And even children did.

Photograph by Anne Burrow, age 13, 1914

The best source of historic photographic images by children is in St. Nicholas Magazine (1871-1940). The first editor was Mary Mapes Dodge, author Hans Brinker and the Golden Skates, until her death in 1905. In the early 20th-century St. Nicholas Magazine innovated the publishing of writing and art by children. They were unquestionably the first major publication to take the creative work of children seriously.

The title of this image, “A Lucky Snap-Shot” does not really live up to the image. Now that the issue of photography as art is long settled we can appreciate the image for the work of art that it is. For me, what is most striking is the intensity of the horses’ gaze. Ears and eyes on us. They look at us as sentient beings. The framing is remarkable. If you draw an X from corner to corner you will that the horses mouths just about exactly reset on that line.

A very simple set of photographic experiments can be derived from this image. Print out the photo. Draw and X corner-to-corner. Have your child or students take photographs thinking about where the central image — the face — the dog — the flour — the building– is situated in relation to the actual center of the image. As with digital photography you can take as many images as you like without incurring cost you and your students can experiment with how the feel of the image changes with framing.

About the Author

In 1973, I was twenty years old, teaching children's art classes at my college, the University of California, Santa Cruz, and came up with the idea that the best way to encourage children to write was to introduce them to the best writing by their peers. Stone Soup grew out of that idea, and I have continued to publish Stone Soup for all these years.
I am also a culinary historian. I write about traditional foodways. My book, "The Magic of Fire," is about hearth cooking. My book, "Bread, a global history," speaks for itself. I am currently writing a bread history for a University Press. I publish articles on gardening and traditional foodways at Mother Earth News. I also publish on wild mushrooms and other food-related subjects.

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