On baby butts, privacy, and your rights as a client.



They grow up fast, and when they do, they'll come searching for THESE photos of their childhood.


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In a recent Facebook fiasco, the (then-uncensored) photo below was reported for inappropriate content and removed from the site. Initially, I felt enraged (seriously? a toddler playing with the hose in the hot Texas summer?) and at the same time saddened (this happened anonymously in a private local mothers group - what mama hasn’t let her kid play naked in the yard?)

Not wanting your own child's cute booty posted online to make other mothers smile? Sure. But believing so strongly that NOBODY should have this right? Come on, now.

But more than that, the experience most of all got me thinking . . . Why do we get uneasy upon seeing a naked baby's body?

Do we find it dirty in some way? Shameful? Or worse... sexual? What message are we sending the next generation by perpetuating this concept? Where does our responsibility fall in protecting our children, and how do we balance this with the risk of contributing to early body shaming, or self-shaming?

A while back, I read a New York Times feature written by famed photographer Sally Mann, on the controversy surrounding her photographs depicting the lives of her three young children growing up in rural Virginia. The whole piece – available here – is beautiful, but one part stuck out to me in particular:

When we saw it, it felt like a mutilation, not only of the image but also of Virginia herself and of her innocence. It made her feel, for the first time, that there was something wrong not just with the pictures but with her body. Heartbreakingly, the night after seeing the picture with the black bars, she wore her shorts and shirt into the bathtub.
— Sally Mann

As a mother, this makes me want to cry. One of my deepest desires is for my children – four and two – to hold on to their carefree childhood confidence and freedom as long as they possibly can. Their bodies are beautiful and innocent, and I want them to know it. There’s nothing dirty about playing naked in the yard.

Of course, there’s the question of perverts.

The internet occasionally warns me about the creeps lurking in the shadows, snatching photos of naked or semi-naked toddlers from the web, and altering them in obscene ways.

And part of me wants to respond to those warnings: “. . . AND?”

Is the risk greater than the one of my child being snatched from my grocery cart? Dry drowning? Snake bite? Tetanus? That sounds flip, and it’s not how I intend it. The risk of my child’s photo being stolen and perverted by a person with one of the darkest varieties of mental illness exists. I know it. And it's gross. Yes. I’m just not sure how it affects us personally, or if it’s a risk worth fearing enough to change the way we live – and celebrate -- our real life.

But here’s the thing: that’s OUR choice for OUR family. In fact, it’s my children’s choice as much as mine, and I incorporate them into decision-making with regard to their photos as much as possible.

My children and I have more conversations about consent, and what to do if you don’t like the way somebody is interacting with your body, than I had EVER anticipated at their tender young ages.

The topics of these conversations span from unwelcome tickling, unpleasant remarks, and annoying pokes, all the way to photos of them being shared with friends and strangers in print and online.

As a family documentary photographer, I deal with a lot of baby butts on the job.

Some families are totally OK with the full range of bodies being photographed and shared for the world to see. Others make sure their children wear underpants, at minimum. Others still opt out of a photo release entirely (which means that the photos cannot be shared by the photographer at all). THESE ARE ALL FINE CHOICES!

One conversation that I hadn’t anticipated coming out of the naked-boy-playing-with-sprinkler fiasco was one about a client’s rights and a photographer’s responsibility. I was surprised at how many comments questioned whether the parents had given consent for their child’s photo to be used publicly (which -- by photographer ethics -- they had).

When you invite a photographer into your home or on your adventure with the intent of having your real life documented for your family history, YOU get to decide what’s cool for the internet and what stays in the family album only.

If you find a photographer whose terms you aren’t comfortable with, LOOK ELSEWHERE.

Here’s what you need to know about photos, privacy, and the internet:

  1. Without a model release, it is against the code of ethics for your photographer to share your images publicly, either online or in print.* Photographers who have shared photos of minors without permission have routinely been taken to court and lost.
  2. Many photographers require a model release before accepting a contract. This is because a photographer’s business comes entirely from portfolio and friend-to-friend referrals.
  3. Some photographers do not require a release, but will charge a “non-usage” fee to clients who opt out. This is done to offset the loss of future business from inability to share the images.
  4. In some cases, you may have the right to sign a release, but have the option to strike individual photos from the sharable set.

I have recently amended my client model release to allow for a few special blanket exclusions. I respect the fact that sharing your private family life with me is a vulnerable position, and I want you to fully trust the process to deliver results that you’ll be comfortable with. Two checkboxes. How easy is that?

In family photojournalism, my goal is for families to embrace the beauty of their real, unfiltered life without fear -- fear of appearances, fear of danger, fear of judgment. And to facilitate this, I need my clients' trust and vulnerability. One of the most difficult and fascinating elements of my work is walking the fine line between recording and displaying the truth as I see it, and crafting a compelling story through thoughtful inclusion and omission. For the most part, I take on this great responsibility alone as the storyteller. But on the sensitive issue of privacy and your children's bodies, you get a say too.


For more on Family Storytelling sessions, click here.

*photos in which the client is not uniquely recognizable or not clearly the subject of the photo are exempt from photo release by law