I Became A Photographer To Change The Existing Standards Of Beauty


By Kathleen Telesco

A little girl looks out at us, hair brushed and opaque tights slightly scrunched at the ankles. Beside her stands her little brother. He is wearing a clip-on tie, button-down shirt and small, shined black loafers.

This is a typical scene that we see in family photography, and it has been a tradition since before the camera was even invented. It’s seen in paintings from the 1200s and the Renaissance, and in photographs from Victorian times up to the present day. It’s the reason the babies in a Giotto painting look like miniature men and women; for centuries, we thought that children only differed from adults in their stature. Child psychology wasn’t always the booming field that it is today.

Since my mother first let me experiment with using her cameras, I have loved photography. First, the huge JVC video camera with which my sisters and I made countless bad music videos. Then, her old Olympus that I used through high school, college and into adulthood. As a graduate, I was attracted by fashion photography, with its loose artistic boundaries, creative directing opportunities, beautiful makeup and of course, beautiful people. I thought it was a perfect fit.

However, as I began to organize my first shoots, I found myself uncomfortable at the thought that I might unwittingly be perpetuating a certain beauty ideal. I tried to work with models that represented an alternative to the traditional standards of mainstream magazines, but I knew that if I continued to work in the industry, I wouldn’t always have that freedom.


When my niece was born, I realized that the abstract idea I had been struggling with had now become undeniably concrete: my every interaction with her would help shape how she felt about herself. With the toys I bought her for Christmas, the words I used as I complimented or encouraged her, the choices I made in my own life, I would impact her sense of self and her perception of the world. One day she could be the girl reading the fashion magazine, and I had to be okay with the possibility of having produced the photograph on the page in front of her. I wasn’t.

However, I realized that fashion wasn’t the only genre of photography in which adults defined roles for a younger generation; it was happening in family photography too, although in a less obvious way. A family shoot is organized by the parents and the photographer, who choose the location, and usually pose and dress the kids. There is little choice on the part of the children.

This led me to the idea of Photo Adventure Storybooks. The fundamental idea behind the books is empowerment. The kids help write the narrative, instead of being put into a situation that they don’t have any say in. They choose their own costumes—if they don’t want to wear a tie or tights, they don’t have to. They create an illustration of the story’s antagonist, which is composited into the photographs. It can be as scary or funny as they would like.


Ideally when I shoot, I want the kids to choose their own roles. I don’t want them to feel like little adults; I want them to feel like kids. Because they are directly involved in the creation of the book, they get to learn about the creative process, writing, drawing and improvisation. In addition, the storylines can serve as a valuable educational tool, offering the opportunity to address ideas relating to bullying, diversity, female empowerment and gender in a light-hearted setting.

When I gave Michael and Emily their storybook, their reaction was amazing. Seeing themselves on the page, they pointed and laughed uncontrollably, unable to believe it was them in the story, and that they had helped to create it. If my small project had this much of an effect, what else might be possible?

Given the option, I think many parents would prefer to have photographs that show their kids living out their own stories, proud of their independence and creativity. Children are not static figures, or little adults. They are people: constantly evolving, constantly learning. We don’t need to tell them who they are. Given the chance, they will tell us.


Kathleen is the owner of Parenthesis Photography, in Norwalk, Connecticut, which offers artistic family and event photography and Children’s Photo Adventure Storybooks. She studied Studio Art and Media & Communication at Muhlenberg College, where her passion for photography grew in the darkroom. Kathleen loves mixing modern concepts with a vintage photographic style.

You can see a Photo Adventure Storybook example by clicking here
Website parenthesisphotography.com
Facebook: facebook.com/parenthesisphotography

Instagram: @parenthesisphotography


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