Exposed

February 13, 2007

Yesterday, I received a very sweet e-mail from a self-professed ‘dedicated lurker’ who asked the following question: I wonder if you are ever concerned that your daughter’s (beautiful) image will remain in cyberspace, with no mechanism for you — or her — to reclaim it or her privacy?

She meant no disrespect by the question, she insisted; she just wanted to know. But she had been, she admitted, afraid to post the question as a public comment, afraid of being misunderstood as judgmental. I understood her concern. The question makes a clear point: shouldn’t I have second thoughts about posting my daughter’s image, about sharing that image with strangers? Should I not be more protective? I have asked myself these questions many times. I have asked myself these questions every time that I have posted a picture of my daughter

I have not come up with any easy answers. But nor have I resisted the temptation to post her image. I continue to post her image, with some abandon. The other day, I posted a picture of her in the bath. I had the thought, at the time: is this sharing too much, with too many? Perhaps.

There is much that I could say about the various arguments that I have had with myself about the ethics and the safety of posting her picture. I have thought about this long, and I have thought about this hard, and although at the end of the day I haven’t got an answer that addresses all potential questions and concerns, I have come to the conclusion that I am acting within reasonable bounds of care when I post her image. Those are arguments for another post, maybe, someday, or for discussion in comments. The question that most concerns me right now, however, is this: why do I post her picture?

In his Camera Lucida (Reflections on Photography), Roland Barthes distinguishes between the studium of a photograph, those elements of a photograph that provoke an interpretive (cultural, social, political) response, and the punctum of a photograph, the element of a photograph that punctures, or wounds – that which provokes an emotional response in the viewer by establishing a direct relationship between the viewer and the subject of the photograph. I seek out photographs of other people’s children for the punctum; I post pictures of my daughter for the punctum.

I post her picture, and I seek out pictures of other parents’ children, because these photographs establish a relationship. I seek out those relationships as photographer, and as mother: I seek the poignant moment of understanding, the punctum, in photographs of other mothers’ (and fathers’) children; I look at those pictures and imagine that I see what those other parents see. I admire the curve of a cheek, the ridiculous angle of a pigtail, and I imagine that that was the detail that moved the photographer, the parent, in the moment that they clicked the shutter. I imagine that I see, in your photographs, for an instant, your child, through your eyes, and I am punctured by that moment – that fleeting moment – of connection. In that moment, I feel that understand you, because I understand, viscerally, your love for your child. I recognize our shared experience of intense, inexpressible love. I want to share my own experience of that inexpressible love with you, with someone. So I post my own pictures.


I want you to see and feel the details that I cannot adequately put to words. I want you to gasp at the impossible, powerful fragility of her little arms, and to smile, suddenly, involuntarily, at the expression of intense joy on her face. I want that single, wet, strawberry curl at the crown’s edge of her forehead to grab at your heart and squeeze it, hard. I want the detail of the droplets of water to call to mind for you every bath that you have ever taken with your own child. I want the photograph to puncture the distance between us as parents, different people with different children, different lives. I want you to see her through my eyes, to know my love for her, to recognize it as your own. I want you to be punctured.

This is not what Barthes meant, exactly – for Barthes, the photographer is absent from consideration in the experience of punctum. The only relevant relationship is that between the subject of the photograph and the individual who beholds the photograph. But we parents-as-performance-artists cannot separate ourselves from those beings that form the very core of, the very reason for, our art: we hold them out to each other as mirrors-cum-camera lucidae can you see yourself in my child? Can you see me in my child? See how my child looks at me, and how I look at my child! See what I see! See how I love! See how we love!

It was the punctum of a photograph that touched me, that disrupted me, in the recent flurry of news and discussion that surrounded the death of Anna Nicole Smith. It’s a recent picture, of the model, with her baby, you’ve probably seen it: Anna Nicole sits, excessively tanned and looking somewhat dazed; her husband/lawyer sits to her left, on the margins of the picture. On Anna Nicole’s lap sits the baby: she’s just slightly off-center, pulled close to her mother’s body; this detail touches. But what punctures is this: the frilly pink headband that adorns the baby’s head, the garish accessory that asserts the mother’s possessive devotion to her daughter’s femininity; the detail that says, loudly, childishly: this is my baby girl; I made her; she is mine. I, as a mother, have never been tempted to adorn my baby with frilly pink headbands, but this detail punctures me – because I recognize, in my heart and in my gut, that childish, girlish pride: I made her, she is my girl. And in that moment of recognition, I feel, in my heart and in my gut, an impossible connection with a woman whose distance from me – in space, in form, in character, in spirit – was so great as to be nearly infinite.

Anna Nicole did not take that photograph; it is entirely possible that she did not even dress her baby for that photograph, that she did not select the frilly confection that adorns her daughter’s head. Still, the moment of puncture remains: I feel that I have shared something, however miniscule, of the emotional experience of new motherhood with this other mother, this doomed mother, so unlike me, so very, very unlike me. And although I am discomfited by this, I am also glad for it. It humanizes what would otherwise be irretrievably dehumanized. It humanizes her. It humanizes me.

My lurker worries that I expose too much, that we expose too much. I worry about this, too. But I also feel, deeply, that the exposure – the candor, intentional and accidental – is necessary to connection, to the humanity of the communities that we build, across universes of difference. I feel, deeply, that I would lose something, that we would lose something, if I kept myself and my daughter (this unique being who is also and always an extension of myself) behind our fences, safe as houses, concealed from view.

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    { 87 comments }

    TB February 14, 2007 at 1:24 pm

    I’ve thought about this quite a bit myself. Will I post pictures of my son? I think I will because I’ve built a community of people with whom I mostly interact online and I want them to see him when he’s born. I want to share him with them.

    Jessica February 14, 2007 at 1:26 pm

    I just want everyone to see how damn cute she is! I’ve not really given thought to the negative side of posting pix. I tend to in general ignore ugly stuff and stay in denial. I’m comfortable there.

    Robin February 14, 2007 at 2:07 pm

    Standing up and applauding. Loudly. What a wonderful, thought-provoking post. As for me? I share, because at the very core of my being I’m a sharer. I could no longer avoid it than I could stop breathing. I WANT people to see the beauty that I see, to see what provokes the laughter, and the tears, and the thoughts. Or just to enjoy a cute smile. And to be honest, for me at least, how is posting a picture of my child on a blog very different from letting them walk around the supermarket. The same perverts or lunatics (since that is what we’re afraid of here, right?) would see them, but they’d see them AND know where they live, their habits, what type of cookies could be used to lure them away… Until I start wrapping my children in opaque bubble wrap before leaving the house I just don’t see the harm. What is the worst that could happen? Yes, someone could look at their picture while performing a repulsive act. Couldn’t they do the same after seeing my child at the pizza place? As long as they aren’t acting on them, how am I, and more importantly my children, truly harmed by someone else’s lascivious thoughts? I know that many don’t agree with me, but this is my line in the sand, and I can live with it.

    I do draw the line at sharing things that would actually humiliate my children, and that line changes as they grow, and will undoubtedly change again and again as they start to develop their own “public” personas.

    I guess I had a lot to say. I probably should have made this a blog post of my own… Thank you for making me coalesce my own thoughts.

    Jennifer February 14, 2007 at 4:26 pm

    I haven’t posted here before, but today seems as good a day as any. This is so well written and thought provoking.

    To be perfectly honest, I’d only had passing thoughts as to whether I should or should not post personal photos. (I only have 2 so far). This post has made me think. I suppose I’m not worried at this point, having a very small and known readership. However, if my readership were to grow, I think I would have to reevaluate whether I’d post pics. It (the picture) would have to really help reader feel and understand the story. But, alas, that’s a worry for the future.

    tracey February 14, 2007 at 5:36 pm

    Compelling post. And timely as I have been writing and rewriting a post in my head about this same topic. I just got a casual yet concerned email from an old friend asking me the same thing as your “lurker” asked of you. And I believe she ended it with a line like, “we have to protect our babies”. I have a lot to say about it because I post many images of my kids on my blogs. I plan on giving my thoughts on the matter soon. Thanks for this post…it’s got my wheels spinning even faster.

    lydia February 14, 2007 at 5:46 pm

    wow… great post, and so thought-provoking.
    i don’t have a blog, but i have been considering it. and this is certainly something i’ll consider.

    and you really made me feel for anna nicole as a person, instead of a carictature.

    Momma Bean February 14, 2007 at 6:26 pm

    Brilliant. I feel the same way with regard to sharing photos of the girls with the world. I want everyone else to feel and see why my heart is bursting everytime I look at them.

    And the curl, it is darling.

    Mom101 February 14, 2007 at 6:46 pm

    Simply spectacular, considered answer to an age-old blogging question.

    I’ve always thought that parents will jump at the chance to have their family in the paper – which then appears online, in that newspaper’s website – and think nothing of it. But somehow say the word bloooooooog and it changes the game. We’re held to a different standard. “Well, it’s not news so….”

    That picture. Oh, be still my heart.

    Mom101 February 14, 2007 at 7:16 pm

    Oh and I wouldn’t put it past ANS to have picked that ugly bow thing herself. Nasty.

    Lynanne February 14, 2007 at 9:38 pm

    I really enjoyed reading your well-thought out response to that person’s comment. It gave me a lot to think about, thank you!

    Jade's mommy February 14, 2007 at 10:17 pm

    Excellent answer. For me the desire to share is greater than the desire to be private. So I guess others will be seeing pics of my little one on my blog and on flickr for a long time to come.

    Pgoodness February 14, 2007 at 11:02 pm

    First of all, I want to be able to think like you. Second, I want to be able to write like you. Third, your post is fantastic! I believe you’ve determined exactly why it’s ok to post pictures,and why we all should. Thanks.

    Maman February 15, 2007 at 12:31 am

    I see it a little differently.. at this point my filles are older, 10 and 12… They are posting pictures of themselves on their MySpace and Blogger pages. In the pictures that I post, I am preserving my memories of them, as sweet and girlish, or at least silly.. instead of sucking in their cheeks trying to look skinnier or sexier than they are (but how they wish they were perceived)… on the other hand, virtually no one reads my blog… so what damage could be done to them?

    wordgirl February 15, 2007 at 12:47 am

    I’ve thought about this,too. Some days it seems okay and other days find me horrified that I’ve done this thing. Except for this…my older boys have Facebook and MySpace and their images are already out there. Doubtless this will be true for Wonderbaby when she is older. But, I do see your point.

    Sara February 15, 2007 at 1:09 am

    My good heavens, what a turnout this post brought! What you have said was so poignant, so real, so what I wish I could have said and may have but much more chunky and clumsy in my own way.

    testblog February 15, 2007 at 1:47 am

    I love this post and I love the way you said it. My feelings exactly. My kids are older and can read what I write if they want to…which adds another layer to things. Your candor makes your blog compelling—-and as long as you are aware of the dangers I think you will take the right amount of caution. Thanks for the post on this as I have been struggling with it a lot lately.

    Fairly Odd Mother February 15, 2007 at 8:58 am

    That photo! It made my day to see her looking so happy and beautiful! I think you are smart to take into consideration how much is ‘too much’ exposure; personally, though, I’d be much, much more worried about letting my girls (or son) set up myspace accounts and then never checking in on them. Since they can’t read yet, this isn’t really an issue.

    Amanda February 15, 2007 at 9:38 am

    Yes! Mylar balloons are definitely the way to go :) She LOVES them. Watch out if she puts it in her mouth though, the foil comes off!!!
    P.S. Couldn’t find an email address to respond to!

    Anonymous February 15, 2007 at 11:44 am

    wonderbaby is precious.and when i look at her photos i am reminded of a time when mine were all that young.i see a mothers joy and overflowing love,pride,wonder,awe.and how others view wonderbaby pics is out of your hands.and luckily most of us don’t lurk in shadows and go into an ugly place when we see babys pics.

    mrsmogul February 15, 2007 at 11:48 am

    Hmm Well….first of all, I hope you get to read my comment as number 71,,,I was thinking the same thing that now that my son is one to stop posting pics on the internet…but I dunno..it’s a tough call as there are crazies out there and its not BEAVER FAMILY WORLD anymore.

    Kelly February 15, 2007 at 3:08 pm

    “I admire the curve of a cheek, the ridiculous angle of a pigtail, and I imagine that that was the detail that moved the photographer, the parent, in the moment that they clicked the shutter. I imagine that I see, in your photographs, for an instant, your child, through your eyes, and I am punctured by that moment – that fleeting moment – of connection.”

    Yes, yes and more yes. It’s why I read other bloggers as well as look at their photos. The sharing of words and pictures is intimate, for sure, but it is exactly that connection that keeps us coming back for more.

    Jenny February 15, 2007 at 3:25 pm

    After 72 comments there isn’t more I can say except to tell you that every work you said I want to sing.

    Thank you.

    ewe are here February 15, 2007 at 9:09 pm

    Well said.

    I’ve gone back and forth on the ‘post or not to post’ question when it comes to pics of MF. I was very reluctant at first; but then I just couldn’t help wanting to share him just a bit. Because he is my heart; he lights it up. And to see him is to understand this. At least for me.

    Love the bath pic of WB. They’re so free and happy in the bath, no?
    ;-)

    Slackermommy February 16, 2007 at 1:19 am

    What can I say that hasn’t already been said except I found this to be a very thought provoking post. Very well written.

    tali February 16, 2007 at 2:51 am

    Just in case you still keep track of comments and links after so many — I really enjoyed this post (and the amazing picture of WonderBaby therein). I’ve linked to it on my site (fireopal.livejournal.com). Thanks for keeping me thinking!

    AdventureDad February 16, 2007 at 4:39 am

    We like photography and have talked about this as well. WE post lots of photos but try to keep them “clean”.

    I prefer to read posts with some small pictures in them. For me, just like you, it helps to understand the author much better. To know what they mean and what they feel. Most bloggers are after all writing about very personal things and some photos are a great tool. Unless you suck at photography.

    There is a danger that someone can use photos and other information to cause damage. But it’s 2006 and all kinds of information is out there. If I want to find out where you live, how much you earn,and where you work, I can easily do so. When I think of that, some nice photos don’t seem like such a big deal.

    Nice weekend

    AD

    tallulah February 17, 2007 at 10:02 am

    You have explained so eloquently why I do the same. Thank you.

    Gurukarm February 17, 2007 at 10:41 pm

    I for one am grateful you post all these sweet, joyful, breathtaking photos of Wonderbaby – she’s always good for a lift of the heart if/when I need one. Thank you for sharing your love of her, her love of life, with all of us.

    Ruth Dynamite February 18, 2007 at 9:31 pm

    I won’t post my children’s photos – as much as I want to connect and have everyone understand the depth of my love and joy. But I don’t criticize your decision to do so – I love seeing Wonderbaby and I delight in your joys. If I ever do see you in person, I’ll be sure to break out my pictures.

    mo-wo February 19, 2007 at 7:38 pm

    I thought I had left comment on this the other day??

    As we are asking age old HBM questions here is mine.. If she is Wonder Baby, does that make you Wonder Woman?

    ps..maybe I thought better of posting in the end so as to not get to riled up about my latest rebuttal for Dutch and the those peoples.

    dorothy February 22, 2007 at 5:20 pm

    I’ve posted about this many times, and have also kept posting photos of my daughter. The Internet is a community, and just as I would not put a bag over her head in music class, I don’t overtly hide her image in my online life. I try to preserve our privacy as best I can, but she is beautiful, her joy is beautiful, and I think those who visit my site enjoy seeing the joy in her photos. I’m not ready to throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to say.

    Tere February 26, 2007 at 3:16 pm

    Hi, this is my first visit to your site (found this link from Mom – NOS, whom I also found today through Dante’s Inferno w/Children), and I just wanted to say that you have perfectly described the reason why I post pictures of my son.

    The worrywart/doom sayer in me is constantly freaking out whenever I post a picture of my boy. I don’t even want to express my fears for fear of making them come true. But many times, there are no words to capture his essence, his beauty, his charm, or his quirkiness. And just like I am constantly “punctured” by images (including how other parents see their kids), I too want to “puncture”.

    That’s it in a nutshell – thanks for verbalizing it.

    AmandaDufau February 26, 2007 at 11:23 pm

    I’m also a first-time visitor, found you through my friend Tere (yes, the one that commented right before me). Thank you for this great post. It inspired me to actually post about a mishap I ahd with an image taken from my blog, and it reminded me why I won’t stop posting pictures of my two gorgeous boys.

    Michele May 13, 2007 at 4:28 am

    I know I’m late to the party.

    I used to post pictures of my son until one day I followed some referring links and saw his pic on a porn site. He was fully clothed, playing a guituar–nothing slightly pornish–but the sick f**ks of the world saw him diffrently.

    About Dooce, she’s exposed her daughter FAR too much that it’s beyond pictures. The pictures are easy compared to all the times she talked about how much she didn’t want to be a mom and just how difficult a child Leta was and is. But then again, I’m not a dooce fan at ALL.

    nite_jet September 12, 2007 at 1:33 am

    I am just amazed at the “ownership” statement…”She is mine…blah blah blah”

    THINK!…you are invading the privacy of your CHILD is NO place “safe”? How will your child feel about this? How pathetic…it is NOT a kind and universally “good” world out there on the Internet…and there is not universal good will…

    PROTECT your children!
    A home, the bath, is the most private…sacred…place of privacy…need you share those moments with the world? A naked child in a bath…may very well be “art” to you, a supposedly loving mother…but your daughter should be able to have her life PRIVATE!!! smarten up! She enters the world on the Internet?
    My God what a fricking betrayal of those who were supposed to protect you.

    Anonymous April 29, 2008 at 9:20 am

    I don’t understand why some people are so angry and paranoid?? Don’t everybody see our children outside already??

    Anonymous November 22, 2008 at 2:17 am

    I am 5 months pregnant and just found your blog and really enjoy your writing. I came across the pic of your little one in that cute tee that says “mutha sucka” on it and decided I needed it for my own babe when the time comes. So I googles “mutha sucka baby” and this is one of the things that came up

    http://www.babyclotheshound.com/coolbabyclothes/mutha-sucka

    So if you are “babyclotheshound” suppose it’s no biggy. And it really isn’t a terrible re-use of your pic but I just thought you ought to see it as it seems to apply to this post.

    And hey where did you get that tee?

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