Back in August of 2007 I took The Little Monster to our local mall and saw one of those booths that takes photographs and prints them in a little strip. I took her into the booth and we came out with the following series of four photos. A number of things make this particular strip my favorite one of all time. First of all, it was The Little Monster's very first time in one of these booths. Second, because of the fact that it was her first experience in one you can really see the uncertainty on her face. Her expressions explicitly tell the story of what's going on in her mind during the experience. I have been in these things a number of times and it simply didn't occur to me--until I saw the results--that this was a whole new and unknown experience for The Monster.
Another thing that makes this series of photos special for me is the fact that The Little Monster was three months shy of turning two in this strip. At present she is only a few months shy of her sixth birthday. It's amazing to see how much she has changed over the past four years. My Little Monster is growing up...
Here's the photo strip:
And now let's take a look at each photo individually and try to decipher exactly what was going through The Little Monster's little head during each one. Remember that once the process started (the money was deposited and the camera started clicking) it just continued until all four photos were taken. Of course that's a pretty obvious fact, but an important one to keep in mind when realizing that this was all new and unexplored territory for The Little Monster!
I remember telling her to look into the mirror and smile. Of course, she didn't know exactly what she was supposed to be looking at, and you can sort-of see the uncertainty in her eyes. She's not scared or anything, just a bit unsure. "Okay, I'm looking, but just what am I supposed to be looking at?" I love this photo because I know that it's her very last moment of relative calm and comfort for the next thirty seconds or so. It's funny how I just kind of assumed that she'd automatically know just what to do and what to expect out of our little visit to this small booth.
Confusion starts to set in. Remember that she wasn't really expecting the sudden flash that accompanied the click of the camera. I think I told her that a photo was about to be taken, but probably didn't properly prepare her for the flash. She seems to be thinking: "What the heck was that?!?". She obviously was not prepared for this second photo in any way.
By the third photo The Little Monster is starting to realize what's going on--every few seconds there is going to be a sudden, bright flash. As you can see, she's attempting to look at the correct spot, but can not keep from squinting as she prepares herself for another flash. "Daddy seems to think this pretty normal, but why are we sitting in this little room being bombarded by flashes of light?"
And now, panic starts to set in. It appears that the poor Monster is making a brave attempt to smile, but the shock and horror in her eyes belies her true emotions. Of course, that "smile" might have actually been the beginning of an expression of terror. I don't know how bad this would have gotten if there were any more than four photographs taken. Would she have been permanently scarred emotionally if there had been five, six, seven or eight photos taken instead? Thankfully (and mercifully for her) it stopped after four and we were able to exit the booth and pick up the strip a few moments later. Hopefully seeing the fruits of our labor gave her frightened little psyche some solace and peace.
So there you have it. In general, photographs are just a little bit like a time machine. They create a memento in physical form of a single moment--a moment frozen in time as it were--that allows you to take a look back and remember what was going on at that exact moment. But a photo booth strip actually gives you a bit more than that. In the four photos you not only get four precise moments you can look back on, but you can also piece together the story of what was going on between those four moments. The sweet innocence of The Little Monster at this time when she wasn't quite two years old makes this story very obvious and easy to put together. Unlike most people (including myself in these very photos) The Monster wasn't posing for photographs. No, she was actually experiencing something new and unknown for the very first time! And you can plainly see that experience on her little face.