Sometimes I get really nervous when they reach for the camera. Especially after they finish picking their noses. Over and over I emphasize the word “mil-ink-ee,” which translates to “baby.” I pronounce each syllable with stern eye contact and ever so gently secure the strap around their neck. Cradling it as though it were a newborn duckling.
“Milinky,” I repeat.
At first, I didn’t even bother to remove the lens cap. I tried to instruct them on how to use the viewfinder, but they didn’t care. Instead, they found more gratification in hearing the ‘click’ noise.
A couple weeks later I returned with the camera again. I was immediately ambushed with enthusiastic chants begging to play with their new toy.
“Mil-ink-ee,” I repeated tirelessly.
The younger children still preferred the ‘click’ sound, but this time the girls were more curious; asking me how to compose a photo. They started instructing one another where to stand and how to pose. Even I was assigned to model for a few pictures.
A few months later I visited once more. Season was over and I had spent the last few months traveling Europe. By now they recognized my bag. I didn’t even have to take my camera out before they started asking to take pictures. I secured the strap around their neck in a routined fashion.
“Mil-in—“ I began.
“—Dah, dah milinky,” the first boy sassed towards my gaping mouth and pointed finger.
Usually I watch them like a hawk, analyzing their every movement. Some of the younger children are going through a clumsy phase so I constantly anticipate the worst.
To my surprise, this time was different. I watched them take turns passing the camera as gently as I had originally instructed. In search for the perfect shot, they started experimenting with different angles. Sometimes crawling on their hands and knees, sometimes standing further away. I even noticed a few of them trying to adjust the focus manually.
“Mil-in-kee,” they repeated to one another.
Now, my Whatsapp occasionally gets bombarded with pictures they shot on their own. Recently, one of the younger boys shared a time-lapse video that he took of a sunset. They constantly ask for feedback and find great satisfaction upon hearing the words, “good job!” It's humbling to know that this small chapter of their lives could potentially inspire passions they pursue further down the road.
It’s quite funny actually. I was editing pictures from earlier that day and found one in particular that stood out. I immediately sent it to several friends and family, ecstatic about such a well composed shot.
That same evening, I was scrolling through pictures on my phone that I took of the kids when they were using the camera. Again, there was one in particular that stood out. I studied it. Analyzing the positioning of the dogs and comparing it to the angle of the boy. Eventually I reached the most unprecedented of conclusions:
For the picture I had so proudly taken, wasn’t taken by me after all.
With great pleasure, I will attribute photo credit accordingly.
A mother dog rests with her baby in Shymkent, Kazakhstan on March 8, 2018.
Photograph taken by Shaggy, 9.