Occasional Paper Series #45

Whose Story Is It? Thinking Through Early Childhood with Young Children’s Photographs

by Tran Nguyen Templeton

You’re [adults] not thinking about the people [children]. Maybe the people don’t want you to take a picture of them when they’re like that. Like they just think, “Oh that’s so cute” (makes a shutter noise, “chk”) and they don’t even want you to do that. What about that? Grown-ups aren’t thinking about that! — Saloma

Looking back at photographs of herself taken by adults in preschool, 6-year-old Saloma (all names are pseudonyms) articulates a rebuttal to adults’ representations of young children. At the age of 4, Saloma had participated in my classroom research, taking photographs and talking about the images in interviews and in a group with her peers. In her pictures and accompanying narratives, she revealed the complexity of her shifting, multiple identities (Grieshaber & Cannella, 2001) as hyper-feminine, daughter of a single mother, young child, consumer, etc. When we returned to the same images two years later, she recalled her precarious relationship with a classmate and proclaimed her newer preference for rock and roll versus the Disney ballads she’d liked when she was younger. Revisiting her photos piqued Saloma’s interest. She asked to see more, but we only had the 25 she had taken with the research camera. Instead, we looked at photos taken of her for the teachers’ documentation purposes. In seeing images taken by adults, Saloma suddenly became indignant, recognizing an identity constructed for her (and for other children, as indicated by her use of the word “people”). She spoke on this topic for nearly 30 minutes, recounting the undesired pet names that teachers (including myself) often gave her. What was so striking about her exposition was just how clearly and carefully she verbally articulated these matters and memories. Between the ages of 2 and 4, she expressed her displeasure in ways that we as adults seemed unable to register. For how long had she been containing these feelings?

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About the Author

Tran Nguyen Templeton is an assistant professor of early childhood studies at the University of North Texas. Tran studies how children construct their own identities through photography, play, and literacy practices; she also thinks and writes about how adults would better “see” children if they stopped to listen and look at what children do in and with the world. Tran has published her work in journals like Children’s Geographies, Harvard Educational Review, The New Educator, and Language Arts. Most importantly, her profile photo was taken by Tulasi Cormier-Marri (who was 3 years old at the time).

Tran Nguyen Templeton

“What Grown-Ups Aren’t Thinking About: A Response to Tran Nguyen Templeton”

by Wendy Luttrell

Tran Templeton opens her article “Whose Story Is It?: Thinking Through Early Childhood with Young Children’s Photographs” with a compelling adult-child encounter. Tran and 6-year-old Saloma are viewing photographs taken of Saloma by early childhood teachers in the preschool classroom where Tran taught and conducted her research. Saloma offers a piercing analysis of “grown-ups” who neglect to consider children’s own wishes. “Maybe the people [children] don’t want you to take a picture of them when they’re like that,” Saloma cautions. But it isn’t just that adults are taking pictures that may be unwanted; what bothers Saloma is how we as adults position children in diminutive ways.

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