April 13, 2007

Harvey Kurtzman, Josef Schneider, And The Art Of Child Photography

kurtzman_help_cover.jpg

After he founded and left Mad! magazine, Harvey Kurtzman edited Help!. Suck.com co-founder Joey Anuff posted a collection of Kurtzman art, including the layout notes for the Feb. 1964 cover above, which tell a bit about how they got this shot:

COVER: At first, we considered hiring a 20-year-old midget for our cover model, but then baby photographer Josef Schneider introduced us to David Dean, a remarkable little 17-month-old boy who followed instructions like a 20-year-old midget.

The object was for a group of desperate men to get a baby to push a button which wasn't really a button, and to do it not once, but several times. Through the clever application of verbal persuasion, child psychology, and a bit of candy balanced on the button, we got the pose.

Sounds like in the golden age of the Baby Boom, Josef Schneider was America's go-to guy for child photography. He wrote at least two books on child photography technique, and one captioned kid photo humor book of the kind I haven't seen since my grandfather stopped giving away calendars for his dry cleaners.

child_photo_made_easy.jpg

Ignore, if you can, the photo of the kid on the cover, which is totally not selling me on Schneider's genius. His 1957 Child Photography Made Easy promises to teach parents the psychological tricks and "games for children of every age which result in the kind of photograph for which he is so justly famous." Unless you're set on using period equipment to take authentically vintage-looking photos, though, the majority of the book, tips on "error-free lighting" and explanations of the "'mysteries' of color," sounds obsolete today. [And now that we know "child psychology" is really just code for "candy," I wonder if there's any mystery left.]

jill_greenberg_end_times.jpg

Or maybe nothing's changed at all. LA photographer Jill Greenberg used candy, albeit in a slightly different way, to take her "End Times" series of photos of children caught mid-meltdown.

child_photog_modern.jpg

I'm more interested in Child Photography The Modern Way, from 1949. It sounds more promising, looks better designed, and if nothing else, shows a very sophisticated deployment of infant hair product.

child_photo_hair.jpg

If anyone has found some good kid photo tips, vintage or not, feel free to share below.

Search for Josef Schneider's child photography books on eBay and on AbeBooks.

Rare Kurtzman via boingboing [Help! image and text: "(c) 2005 Harvey Kurtzman Estate. Rights-related questions referred to Denis Kitchen Art Agency. Please do not reproduce images in this post without including this disclaimer or something like it."]

Previously: Jill Greenberg: "End Times" indeed.

update: I don't know, Schneider still had it goin' on in 1974 when he shot the cover for Bobbi Humphrey's album, "Satin Doll." [image]

josef_a_schneider_satin_doll.jpg
And his syllabus for budding child portraitists included valuable advice on "How to handle Mother!"

5 Comments

My tips on child photography:

Get a decent camera
Turn off the flash
Get close and take a whole lot of pictures.

Examples: http://www.flickr.com/photos/epoh/sets/72157594418657028/

On books:

While newer technology has changed some of the specifics, the fundamentals of good lighting and color -- which is full of mysteries -- are universal.

For something more modern, I recommend the books by photographer Michael Freeman. Specifically on these topics, Light and Lighting: The Definitive Guide for Serious Digital Photographers, which is pretty good, and Mastering Color Digital Photography, which is great.

There's also Portrait Photography: The Definitive Guide [...], which interprets the title word "portrait" very broadly to mean pictures of people in general. It has a chapter on taking kid pictures.

The only caveat is that the editing in these books is a little poor, and also, they're very prone to presenting the most useful information in relatively fine print in (detailed) photo captions rather than in the text proper.

Other than that, the books have well-chosen example photographs, clear and enjoyable writing, and particularly the Mastering Color book presents information you won't find in many other consumer-oriented books.

Camera comments:

Amy is right that a decent camera is necessary. I notice her shots are taken with a Canon 20D, which certainly fits that bill. I know I find it a lot easier to take the pictures I mean to take when using a dSLR, but I'm also pretty happy with my several-years-old Olympus C5060, and very happy with the $150 (!) Fujifilm Finepix F20, which is very responsive (crucial for moving kids!) and -- no hyperbole -- takes better pictures in low light than any non-SLR. (The F30/F31fd are more expensive models with the same technology, but they don't add much.)

Tips in general:

1) Anticipate! Think about what you want, half-press the shutter, and wait for the right instant to squeeze all the way.

2) Like Amy says, avoid the on-camera flash. In most cases it'll just make things worse. The only good use for it is to fill in shadows in otherwise bright light.

That said, the accessory that'll improve your photos the most is a hotshoe flash which you can tilt to bounce off the ceiling to provide indirect light.

If you're indoors with kids a lot, high ISO sensitivity isn't going to buy you enough unless you have a dSLR and a fast lens. (The kit lens that comes with the camera won't cut it.) The afore-mentioned Fuji camera comes close, but can't do magic.

3) Along those lines -- optical image stabilization is all the rage, but remember it does nothing to slow down your kids. It'll help with hand-shake, but you still need either that fast shutter speed or serious sedatives.

4) Get down to child level to take pictures. So much nicer than overhead-view.

5) It's really easy to hold a digicam at a slightly skewed angle. I find having the LCD display gridlines, as many cameras can, makes it easier to think about holding the camera straight.

[wow, thanks for the tips. Perhaps the single biggest change in my photos came from #4, getting down. it was the difference between "interesting to watch" and "interesting picture." -ed.]

I love Nick Kelsh's How to Photograph Your Baby. I routinely give it as a baby shower gift - it's useful advice, totally (and quickly) readable, and while it's intended for film cameras, it all pertains to digital as well. It's made me a much better snapshooter.

hav many letters and photos that josef had taken of myself and children mine and pampers babies call if interested 480 23452 five seven

HI-
I JUST SPENT A HALF HOUR - WITH MY COMMENTS ABOUT "JOSEF SCHNEIDER" WHO I STUDIED WITH MANY YEARS AGO,
IT WAS INFORMATIVE, AND QUITE INTERESTING

WHEN I SUBMIT AND CLICKED 0 IT TELLS ME THERE WAS AN ERROR IN MY E-MAIL HEADING.???

THIS IS NO GAME, MY COMMENTARY WAS QUITE INFORMATIVE, AND BASED UPON ACTUAL FACTS.

I SUDDENLY FIND MYSELF, WITH A BLANK AND TOTALLY EMPTY SPACE, NONE OF MY COMMENTS WERE ON THE PAGE.

IS THIS SOME SORT OF A STUPID JOKE?

I TAKE THE TIME AND CARE, ONLY TO FIND OUT, PERHAPS BECAUSE OF MY SEVERE CARPAL TUNNEL SYNDROME, THAT I MIGHT HAVE ACCIDENTALLY HIT A WRONG KEY?????????????????????????

AND ALL THE EMOTION AND FACTS THAT I HAD WRITTEN, NEVER WENT THROUGH!

IS THIS A GAME?

MY TIME IS WORTH MUCH, NOT TO BE MADE A FOOL OF.

STANLEY WEISBART


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