In about the third or fourth grade, late in the afternoon when I should have been doing homework, I would go to the backyard to play. I was a pioneer, and I would ride my horse back and forth across the grass from my homestead to a river. When it got too dark, I’d be called in for dinner, and be banished from this world for the day. By sixth grade, the time between visits to my backyard adventures grew longer. Now, as I look back, these make believe dramas, seem like explorations of a Garden of Eden, and as I grew up, without noticing, the gates to it closed.
When children are deeply absorbed in play, they seem far away. They create invisible worlds through conversations, dialogs, and theatrics. Their young voices breathe life into stuffed animals; they see dinosaurs and dragons lurking behind the trees and under beds. I observe the way they move their hands and feet, the way they find and handle small creatures, the way they smell, touch, inspect, and collect dirt, rocks, leaves— and more. How can they so fully engage themselves in this rich interior life? Which moments will they remember, and how? Is this instinct, this impulse to play universal?
I listen to my sons, and I watch them, but I do not always fully understand their stories, myths and secrets. When I photograph children—my own and others, I use the lens of a camera, a window, if you will, to seek clues to the realms they have created. I am engaged once again in child’s play, if only from a distance, and I find that I have made a connection between my childhood, and theirs through my photographs.