I went to a dance recital over the weekend for a five year old friend. There were kids of all ages in the show, but the 2-3 year olds were really something to see. Not only were they just ridiculously cute in their fancy dresses, but also their performance was great – mostly they just stood on stage, a few doing moves and some getting frozen with their arms in position staring at the audience. It was so adorable that everyone was laughing. Visually it was something I would have loved to take pictures of, all the little ballerinas in a group with one lost ballerina off to one side…. This got me wondering what it is that makes children doing this sort of thing so interesting and funny. I mean if it were adults the audience wouldn’t have been laughing, ya know?
It first struck me that maybe in looking at very young people doing things that are new to them but are familiar and not new to adults; we get some sort of insight into humanness or something? I find my visual interest as a photographer is consistently in children doing things in the world, not adults. There is something in seeing children act in the world that engages my mind, stops me to think and wonder… When I attempt to photograph adults similarly, it doesn’t resonate in the same way, it doesn’t bring up questions or a wondering. What is the curiosity?
Judith Butler, a philosopher/theorist I read a lot in the 90’s, presented in her book “Gender Trouble”, the idea that identity (specifically gender) is something we are performing. It is the idea that gender is learned behavior that we enact and these performances are then what constitute “male” and “female” identities. Gender is what you do, not who you are (and there are many variations). This idea expands to identity in general. We are performing who we are, our actions don’t reflect some sort of “natural” identity that already exists but instead our actions create it.
Perhaps seeing kids so clearly learning to perform, not just a dance for a recital, but how to be “grown up” people, reminds us ever so slightly that we ourselves have learned to be who we are and to perform ourselves in the world… and its kinda funny.
I find this connection between my undergraduate studies in identity and how we become who we are/ BE who we are and my photography of children and childhood interesting. Perhaps I find clues to personhood in the way kids interact/act with the world around them that are harder to see once become adults.