Yikes! Kids at Play
Frozen in time, a constellation of water drops is suspended in mid air as young Jason Benjamin splashes his sister while the two play in a mud puddle. This photo was published in The Herald in 1992. (Herald File / Bob Eddy) The year was 1992. Harriet Lavender called out to me from the front office at The Herald, saying two very cute children were playing in a puddle in front of the building. I grabbed a Nikon F with a motor drive and a 180mm lens and rushed outside.
The kids saw me coming and, thinking I was going to put a stop to the reverie, momentarily paused.
“I see you’re playing in the puddle,” I smiled.
They were twin sister and brother, Julie and Jason Benjamin, returning from school. My smile was all the encouragement they needed to back a few yards up the street and take a flying run at the now quite muddy puddle.
Julie came first. Having jumped in the water, she took a step forward and looked to me for approval.
I had no time to give it, for her brother, just behind her, had taken a mighty leap and was about to land. The camera, with motor drive pulling five frames a second through the magazine, whirred away as Jason spectacularly hit the muddy puddle.
This frame, chosen for publication on the front page, shows a very surprised Julie, dancing as best she can from the rising tide.
Once the waters subsided, I became concerned for what the children’s foster mother, Roberta Soule, would say when they arrived home a few minutes later. I called ahead, explaining the situation as best I could. She wasn’t happy, but accepted my apology for allowing one last jump. Somewhat assured that the kids, who were after all just being kids, wouldn’t be severely punished, I went immediately into the darkroom to see what the film revealed.
An event like this transpires too quickly for the naked eye to discern detail. The camera, however, is able to freeze everything in time, exposing the film for just a fraction of a second. Harold Edgerton famously pioneered highspeed photography at MIT in the 20th century, in one memorable image capturing the impact of a milk drop in a pool of milk, a miniature crownlike shape rising beautifully from the surface. His work was accomplished with bursts of strobe lighting much faster than a mechanical shutter.
This image was taken without a strobe, but fast film and a bright sunny day will provide enough light to stop very quick movement, if the lens is opened wide and the shutter speed is set on a 500th of a second or faster. I think this image was shot at a 1000th of a second.
The finished photograph reveals what couldn’t possibly be seen as the event took place. Thousands of water droplets, some as fine as mist, are suspended in the air all around a surprised young girl and her enthusiastic brother.
What Works Here?
This image’s dynamism derives from its content and composition.
I couldn’t have arranged the scene better. The puddle fills the bottom half of the frame, pebbles in crisp focus surrounding the edge of the water. Street pavement stretches out above and to the back of the view. The shallow depth of field blurs this background.
The stage is set. To this puddle and background add a boy and a girl. Afternoon light falls upon their shoulders, coming toward the lens from above and behind, to the left.
To these elements add thousands of water droplets, all in crisp focus, flying from the crazy cacophony of the rising splash of muddy water, around the downward plunging boy and his upward springing sister.
The elliptical curves of tire tracks swing into the frame behind the children, leading our eye from the puddle up to their faces, his determinedly looking down into the chaos he is creating, hers up and away, filled with surprise, disbelief.
One Final Ingredient
To all this, add the book bag hanging from the young girl’s arm. Amazingly, it echoes the whole story of the photograph. We see a boy and a girl who look remarkably like the twins. In the space above them hangs a thought bubble. They are smiling and thinking of something together. Perhaps they are thinking about jumping in a puddle on the way home from school. The school element is found in the ABC lettering on the bottom of the bag. That lettering is placed atop the fine spray of black dots, uncannily like the puddle spray flying everywhere in the image.
Finally, the loose strap of the book bag visually connects with the puddle, and the curved top of the bag reinforces, in the foreground, those arcs of wet tire track swinging around at the back.
While this is my photograph, I can’t take credit for the presence of that book bag at the heart of the image. Here, at the center, it completes this photograph of two children in one brief spectacular moment of play.
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