Photographic Agency and Agency of Photographs: Three-Year-Olds and Digital Cameras

By Magnusson, Lena O. | Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, September 2018 | Go to article overview

Photographic Agency and Agency of Photographs: Three-Year-Olds and Digital Cameras


Magnusson, Lena O., Australasian Journal of Early Childhood


Introduction

Photographic documentation has become an active and fairly given part of the everyday lives of Swedish preschool children aged between one and five years (Lindgren, 2012; Sparrman & Lindgren, 2010). The use of photographic documentation has its starting point in, among other things, the preschool curriculum (Swedish National Agency for Education, 2016), where the documentation of learning processes and children's development are central goals. Naturally, it is nothing new for teachers to document what is taking place in the preschool, but the expectations placed on the documentation process and its content have changed during recent years, in conjunction with new revisions of the curriculum (Lofdahl, 2014; Vallberg-Roth, 2012).

As a result of the photographic documentation being employed, children and their actions in preschool are now subjects of the views being captured by cameras and tablets through teachers' use of such devices. The photographs taken by teachers are then used as part of the process of showing what children do at preschool, what they learn and how they learn (Liljestrand & Hammarberg, 2017; Lindgren, 2012). Consequently, photography and photographs are central, as well as 'active agents' (Lenz Taguchi, 2010) in preschool, and young children are thus schooled at an early stage into prevailing norms and practices of looking (Jay, 1998). Through that which is made visible in them, photographs and documentations become part of the development of preschool. But if we, like Dahlberg, Moss and Pence (2013) and Lenz Taguchi (2010), assume that a documentation process can never be perceived as neutral, the photographs in the documentations also become part of the construction of the reality. This means that every photograph within the framework of everyday practice not only illustrates and develops the preschool, but also confirms aspects of the activities and the children's lives.

Some studies have been interested in preschool children as camera users (Clark, 2005; Clark & Moss, 2001; Emarsdottir, 2005; Kind, 2013; Kmnunen & Puroila, 2016; Loizou, 2011; Merewether, 2015; Rasmussen & Smidt, 2002), but there are not many of these studies that concern children's unguided use of digital cameras. The primary focus in several of the earlier studies has been to allow children to use cameras as part of the process of gaining answers to researchers' specific questions. In this way, the camera has become a methodological tool to assist in making visible that which children might otherwise have difficulty describing in words or articulating in other ways. The use of cameras has also worked as a means of illustrating places and interests about which the researcher does not know very much, and about which he/she, therefore, wishes to create knowledge together with the children (Clark, 2005; Clark & Moss, 2001; Einarsdottir, 2005; Kinnunen & Puroila, 2016; Merewether, 2015). In some of these studies, the researchers have made use of photo elicitation (Rose, 2012), whereby the children talk about things and answer questions while looking, together with the researcher, at photographs that have been taken by the children. In a number of these earlier studies, this has meant that the children's verbal voices and their verbal narratives have come to play a major role in relation to the use of the camera and the photographs that the children have taken.

Presumption and aim

A presumption in the study, from which some results are referred to in this article, is that children's photographic views, and thus their visual voices, are often lacking in the process of photographic documentation that takes place in many preschools (Lindgren, 2012). The lack of children's visual voices represents both an ethical and a democratic problem--a problem which, in addition, raises issues of children's agency and their visual freedom of expression (Flannery Quinn & Manning, 2013; Luttrell, 2010; Sparrman & Lindgren, 2010). …

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