I often photograph my children sleeping.
Sometimes it’s because I’m drawn to the position my girls have contorted their slumbering bodies in or the composition of how the sheets swim around them.
Other times I take photos of my kids sleeping because I am up so early and when I come into the room the light is perfection.
Choosing this time to pick up the camera can also be because kids look angelic and if my two daughters end up in my bed they may be holding each other, unaware.
Ultimately though, the main reason I am drawn to taking my girls’ picture during their sleep is because I am seeing them in a state that is so very different from when they are awake, existing, doing crazy kid things.
Sleeping children look like they did as babies. Their sweet faces aren’t animated but soft and gentle.
Seeing my sleeping children is a time where I can soak in how they look and really study them, physically, just like I did when they were babies.
New freckles, longer eyelashes, hair that has gotten darker, hands that have gotten bigger – I see my babies growing up and here, when they are asleep, I can see how they’ve physically changed. Simultaneously, I am treated to entirely seeing them as baby they were, memories of our time together flood my mind reminding me of the miracle of it all.
Photographing my sleeping children warms my soul every in way that few things can.
Soul warming first AM is a quick fix for what’s to come that day.
I see my daughters asleep as warm, safe, clean and cared for.
And although nothing is perfect and surely I am messing them up in ways that I can’t pinpoint right now, I know my children are deeply loved and cared for not by just me but their dad and grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles and all that in addition to my closest friends.
The warmth and light I feel when I see my daughters snooze is pure, raw gratitude.
No matter what is going on for me personally, taking note of these sleeping children and documenting it makes it so I know that at the very least, these little people who have been entrusted to me will have me as long as I am alive, protecting them at all costs. These times of study are a reminder that I would do anything to keep them safe.
So it is last night, like many others, I came across these Magnus Wennman photographs of Syrian Refugee children sleeping which not only remind me of my sleeping daughters but also of how powerful photography can be. How this power can sometimes be lost amongst our constantly moving instagram feeds.
Despite photography having been around for about 20 years prior to the Civil War, it was only until Civil War photographers brought the public an ability to view the reality of warfare. In fact, while photographs of earlier conflicts do exist, the American Civil War is considered the first major conflict to be extensively photographed.
“Photographers such as Mathew Brady, Alexander Gardner, and Timothy O’Sullivan found enthusiastic audiences for their images as America’s interests were piqued by the shockingly realistic medium. For the first time in history, citizens on the home front could view the actual carnage of far away battlefields. Civil War photographs stripped away much of the Victorian-era romance around warfare.” – Civil War Trust
So as it turns out, viewing the carnage death is a horrifying thing to witness and that no matter what hand we play, we ultimately are connected by our humanity. Seeing this in plain site, unabashedly presented via a still image is something our minds cannot erase.
When we are operating in the day-to-day it’s easy to forget that our pain is not just ours. Somewhere, out there, other people are experiencing the same thing. Just as they are when we are filled with joy. Just as they are when they see their sleeping children.
Thus continued in future wars, photographers headed into the heat of battle, risking their lives to show us how bad things are. Through this work we are forced to look and see our enemy as not faceless beings but easily part of our own human family.
I don’t know the complexities of the Syrian refugee crisis. I do know that our government has decided to take “pause” in assisting via the Syrian Refugee Program due to the terrorist attacks in Paris.
No matter the risk of terrorism it’s tough to imagine the kind of person who could view these images and not connect to the humans within them. You don’t have to be a parent to see the atrocity of this situation and our country’s withdraw as the ultimate form of cowardice.
Where is our courage, after all?
Where is our courage to see?
The personal lens through which we view Wennman’s images are highly individual and specific but that should not matter. These are children.
There is a 2 year old under here. One who has been fleeing with her family for 3 months. One who is trying to sleep in 34 degrees Celsius temps. Her mother only having this thin shaw to keep her daughter warm.
I mean, I don’t even need to see Juliana’s face to know: this is a monstrosity of proportions that is beyond my actual comprehension.
Thankfully we have courageous photographers such Magnus Wennman who are willing to face these catastrophic, other worldly events straight in the eye. These brave image capturers are willing to endure the harsh reality and carry it with them forever to bring us photographs that put rawly on display what is happening.
So it is here we are reminded that photography is a very powerful tool, should we choose to use it with great respect. As viewers it is up to us have the courage look through the mass of images pushed to us every day and have the courage to truly see.