The Influence of Children: Photographs of children that helped shape the conversation.

Kristine Nyborg, Contributor

Editor’s Note: We’ve made the decision, with respect to copyright of images, to provide a link to the images Kristine references, except where the image is available for free use (as in the case of a magazine cover, or those in the public domain such as Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother”.)

In July, World Press Photo winner Magnus Wennman shared his excitement on Instagram over getting the cover of the National Geographic Sleep issue. Wennman won a WPP prize for a series on children sleeping, but the image on the cover wasn’t one of those or one of the ones NG had assigned him to photograph of people sleeping around the world. Instead NG published a photo he had made of his own child. He wrote: “But the most important image I took a late November night in our own house when Wile fell asleep. I almost cant believe that it's my own son on the cover of next month's NG number. Feels unreal. Proud.”

Photographs of children do something to us. We connect with them because we have children, know children, were children. Children are innocent, as a species our instinct is to protect them, and atrocities against them create calls to action.

Alan Diaz’ Pulitzer Prize winning photo from 2000 of cuban boy Elian Gonzales shows him embraced by his uncle, screaming, while two Border Patrol soldiers are coming into the room at gunpoint to fetch him. He had been found months earlier floating alone in a boat after his mother drowned trying to get him to the US. He was taken in by his relatives in Florida, but his father wanted him back to Cuba. A six year old draped in fear can never be unseen and the photo was a cruel visual of what a four-month long international custody battle looked like. 

A more recent photo from 2015 with a tragic outcome was the photo of Syrian refugee Alan Kurdi’s lifeless body on a Turkish beach. The boy was a three, lying face down as if he were asleep on the wet sand. Photographer Nilüfer Demir was covering the immigration crisis where already over 200 000 refugees who tried to make the journey across the Mediterranean Sea on crowded boats had drowned. She said: "I thought, This is the only way I can express the scream of his silent body.” The photograph went viral, and with that European governments started opening up their borders for the Syrian refugees.

Almost everyone has seen the photo The Terror of War from 1972, showing 9-year old Phan Thị Kim Phúc, often referred to as “napalm girl”, running away from a napalm bombing in Vietnam. Her clothes were burned off her body from the attack, which left her naked and with life-threatening burns on 30% of her body. The Pulitzer Prize winning photo was taken by AP photographer Nick Ut and it is one of the most iconic war photographs of the 20th century. The photo not only sparked debate about the atrocities happening against villagers during the Vietnam War but also newsroom debates around publishing nudity. Several publications overrode their policies and published the image. To this day the nudity of the image is causing debate, most recently censored by Facebook in 2016. The social media giant backed down after Norwegian newspaper editor Espen Egil Hansen published a front-page open letter to Zuckerberg accusing him of abusing power as a key distributor of news around the globe. Phan The Kim Phúc is now living in Canada after Ut and several other photographers helped save her. 

Photo courtesy Library of Congress

In 1936, Dorothea Lange was on assignment working for the Resettlement Administration and photographed Florence Owens Thompson with her kids on the side of the road next to a camp of people looking for work. The iconic photo, called Migrant Mother, became an important photo during the Great Depression. The camp of pea-pickers received 20,000 pounds of food after the photo was published in the San Francisco News and sparked a call to action. However, there is controversy surrounding the image as Thompson wasn’t part of the camp of workers, but rather had a broken down car they were waiting to get fixed. By the time the food reached the camp, Thompson had moved on.

Possibly one of the most famous children of all time is Afghan Girl, a portrait of 10-year-old Sharbat Gula shot by Steve McCurry in 1984. The portrait shows an afghan refugee girl in a red head scarf with piercing green eyes, and graced the cover of National Geographic in June 1985. It is one of the magazines most famous covers. McCurry didn’t record the name of the girl, and made several attempts to find her later. It wasn’t until the National Geographic assembled a team in 2002 they finally located her. The photograph led to National Geographic setting up the Afghan Children’s Fund to honour the wish of Gula to help improve the prospects of Afghan girls and women. It “…has raised more than $1 million to expand education efforts for children in Afghanistan and for young Afghan refugees living in Pakistan” according to the National Geographic’s website.

Although most historical photographs with children become iconic because of the horrors surrounding the subject of the photo, there is one famous photo that came to be for another reason. Documentary photographer legend W. Eugene Smith was home for a few years recovering from wounds he received while covering WWII. He was questioning himself and his photography, and hadn’t made a picture in months. As he went for a walk with his two small children, he snapped a photo, one of the most iconic photographs of his life. It shows them walking into a clearing, and he named it Walk to Paradise Garden. He said: “Pat saw something in the clearing, he grasped Juanita by the hand and they hurried forward. While I followed my children into the undergrowth and the group of taller trees—how they were delighted at every little discovery!—and observed them, I suddenly realised that at this moment, in spite of everything, in spite of all the wars and all I had gone through that day, I wanted to sing a sonnet to life and to the courage to go on living it. . . .”

Kristine Nyborg is a photojournalist based out of Vancouver, Canada. She has a BA in Photojournalism, MPhil in Visual Ethnography and teaches photography to anyone who’s willing to partake in a combination of monologues and attentive listening. She has been swinging a camera since 1998, and has made a living from it since 2002, making photographs internationally for mainly Norwegian media organisations. She once found herself in a George W. Bush and Karl Rove sandwich in the doorway of Lincoln’s bedroom while on assignment, and can hold serious conversations on worldly topics but prefers to find ways to make herself laugh. Other people laughing is a bonus.

The last five years she’s been learning how to be a mom, and expects that education to level out around September 2019 when all three kids will be in school. 

She also wrote this bio about herself in the third person.

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Instagram: @kristine_nyborg

Twitter: @kinepix