I often use this picture of Ella, taken at the end of a water slide on a hot summer day, as a prompt for groups working with reflective conversation and dialogue.
When I somewhat unthinkingly went though the post-processing routines I began to feel some discomfort with the image and then deliberately printed it at only 10x7in, conscious of my sense of that being more than enough. What's going here? What is the meaning of this shadowy unease?
Here are some (edited) comments from dialoguers:
"...it’s, like, ‘Look at my funny face, Dad.’ Right?"
"It's culturally kind of where we are... by making the image about the facial expression, you’re abstracting it from where it is and, you know, people are going to put a whole other context on it."
"She could be emblematic of our time, the way we objectify each other, ourselves, especially women... and then comes the violence, the abuse."
"If I looked at that I wouldn’t think anything… It's just a wee girl..."
"You don’t know what she's doing – she can show off as well...but you can see it coming"
"I’m the father of a daughter and I’m acutely conscious of how she’s presented to the world and how the world sees her."
"I was looking at that thinking, ‘Gosh, you’re so privileged to have a picture of your daughter like that. Beautiful pictures… But then what it connected me to was that I have a 13 year old daughter and she’s been objectifying herself on the [social networking] website, which is all to come, guys, sorry, [laughter – discussion of website]. We found some pictures of her doing fairly obvious poses, in clothes that we didn’t think were suitable to be seen in on the net. So we edited them!"
Tough issues... and we are faced with our own collusion and contribution. What are we prepared to accept? Yesterday I sat on the train opposite a very gentle, caring man and his young daughter who, I guess, was a similar age to Ella. His black T-shirt was emblazoned with the word 'Death' in a stylised gothic script.
On her pink T-shirt was written 'Play Thing.'