When kids are young playing is easy, it comes naturally to them, the world is simply a three dimensional game board set out for them to create on and have as much fun as possible. As they edge towards and into high school and then onwards towards adulthood this changes and as adults how many of us look at the world around us as our playgrounds? I’m quite lucky in many ways in that I have never really lost my sense of wonder at all that goes on around me and I also regularly ride a bike which is one of the most playful ways to explore and enjoy your surroundings that I know.
I’d never really thought of photography as being particularly playful but the placing of cameras on the phones in our pockets and the linking up to social media has changed that perception for me, together with a project that my kids and I have been doing over the last couple of years – namely getting them to pick themes and then using social media to invite others to interpret the theme in any way they want. What started off as an idea sat in a cafe chatting to one of my kids has mushroomed into something unexpectedly joyful.
Two years ago, back in that cafe one of my kids picked up the magazine I was reading and said “I really like that”, pointing to the photo theme that appears on the inside back cover of the Guardian newspaper each week. It was a few weeks before the start of the summer holidays and like most parents I was planning various things that we could do over the six week break. ”We could do something like that” says I “We could come up with our own themes and play around seeing how we could interpret them”. Then she surprised me by suggesting that they would come up with the themes, six themes one for each week, and that I should use my twitter account to see if other people were interested and I should blog the results at the end of each week.
I’d not been writing the blog very long at this point, but was really enjoying in, and was very new to twitter as well which was surprising me greatly in a very positive way as I had up until that point dismissed it purely as the banal wittering of idiots. I’d taken the plunge (ok dangled my toe in the water) into social media as I was well aware that my children were growing up in a very different world to when I was a child and social media was going to play a part whether I liked it or not. I therefore thought I’d have a bit of a play with it and see what it was all about before they did. The idea of using it to play our photofun game seemed ideal.
So off we went, #summerphotofun was launched and to be honest I felt a bit like Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams – if I tweet it will they respond? Amazingly people picked it up and suddenly photos started popping up in my timeline much to my, and especially my kids surprise. One of the first was from Sydney ! ”Who do you know in Australia Dad?” ”er no one” and this was followed by photos from people all over the place. All the best play I think teaches you stuff and this was a fantastic real life demonstration of how you can build a community of people interested in what you are doing but perhaps most importantly how quickly you can spread an idea or a photo. Last summer as well as the themes we took this idea a stage further and tried to see if, over the six weeks we could get a photo representing the themes from an A-Z of countries or places and amazingly we managed it.
At the end of each week I pulled all the photos together and collated them all in a blog post. We have done this over the last two summers but also cover most of the other holidays (#halftermphotofun #decemberphotofun #easterphotofun etc) as well as throwing in the odd ad hoc #weeekendphotofun when we fancy it. All the results are over on my blog if you are interested in having a look. The results are always really interesting, the kids have consistently picked good themes and the interpretations are great, no matter what we think people will come up with they always surprise us, young and old alike take part and you do not necessarily know who has taken what. The photo at the top was a playful interpretation that someone sent in for the theme Together.
Having a camera phone in my pocket has helped me to view the city I live in in a different way as I go hunting for whatever the theme the kids have come up with, circles or colours for example. This interaction with the world around me has made me view things in a more playful way and has helped us as a family to continue to play together, this has continued through the fantastic community of people who share their own interpretations and play along with us. If you fancy playing along then do join in, all are welcome.