Our daughter was born before iPhones were invented so her babyhood was documented the old-fashioned way. We took shots with a camera then had the film developed into photographs which we carefully slotted into plastic sleeves in an album. How quaint.
I was idly flipping through one such album recently. She was our firstborn (last, too, as it happens) so there is no shortage of images. All the expected shots were present and correct:
Baby gate-crashing her father's 40th birthday celebrations? Check.
Baby sitting in her colourful activity-centre? Check.
Baby in highchair? Check
Baby with proud parents? Check.
Baby "reading"? Check
Baby on Christmas Day? Check.
Baby with grandparents? Check.
Baby laughing? Check.
So far, so ordinary. It was almost a relief when one particular shot finally broke the cheerful monotony. Her eyes were narrowed. Her mouth was gummy and wide. One tiny hand clenched angrily at the white sock on her left foot. She was bawling as she lay in her cot. I think I can recall that particular afternoon; she went from contented to crying in a matter of nanoseconds for no discernible reason.
It made me wonder what sort of mother would choose to whip out of the room and rush down the hall to retrieve a camera, rather than comfort her clearly distressed baby.
As it turned out my mild guilt was swiftly assuaged thanks to the article entitled My child is crying because ... which told of a website devoted to photographs of crying youngsters: "Parents all over the world send Greg Pembroke snaps of their toddlers, mid-tantrum, with a caption saying what sparked it. He posts them on his blog."
So my one-off "tear shot" amounts to nothing in the scheme of things. There are thousands of parents out there who opt to record the moment for posterity rather than "there there" their child. Not only that, but then they release it into the public domain.
Some of the reasons that provided context to the images on the website were: "I put cheese on his cracker", "I told him I was bringing his baby brother home", "He's scared of his Darth Vader t-shirt," "Microwave ate his lunch", "She met her cousin" and "She put stickers on her eyelids."
Reader reaction to The Guardian article revealed a plethora of perspectives:
"Parents would do well to remember that ... their children are never cute or amazing to others."
"I'm so glad I don't have children."
"I don't think I'd want to send a stranger a photo of my child crying for the whole world to see."
"This blog cracks me up - great to get photographic evidence of not-so-idyllic part of child-rearing."
"Charming parents who make jackasses of their offspring."
"Why isn't it regarded [as] straightforward violation of privacy? Because the children are ignorant?"
"I don't like this. Even tiny children are capable of feeling acute embarrassment and humiliation. Like the rest of us, children deserve their privacy."
In a world in which social media sites are full of photographs depicting clichéd "happy family" scenes, it's refreshing to see some honest moments in which babies aren't at their cherubic best. Other parents can take wry comfort in the fact that their child isn't the only one who seems to cry for random and unfathomable reasons.
Yet I suspect that the rights of the baby to privacy just might trump all other concerns. It's surely one thing to take a sneaky shot of the wailing infant for a family photograph album or for use at the child's twenty-first birthday party but it's quite another thing to post it on a public forum for the amusement of perfect strangers.
Have you photographed a baby crying? Why were they crying and why did you capture it? What do you think about making it public?