What do the parents think, generally?
I have never photographed a kid without having a clear dialogue with the parents about what the intention is and what I expect the images to be. Some people seem to think that these parents are making money off this in some way, or that they’re fame-seekers. I have yet to really encounter a stage mom. I don’t know if that’s an American anomaly… I’m not sure. I feel like maybe that’s a stereotype and those things aren’t necessarily a factor in Canada. Most of these parents, they’re well educated, they get the arguments, and they think the photos portray a valid point that they want to participate in.
There was one circumstance with the JonBenet Ramsey photograph where the girl is, essentially, imitating a child murder victim after a sexual attack. We were very cautious in moving forward with that one. The girl was unfazed, but the mother was clearly concerned and clearly cautious about moving forward. But I think any healthy parent would be very cautious with something like that.
Do the kids understand the scenes they’re portraying?
Sometimes the kids just get it. Like the 9/11 picture. Even though they are three or four years old, they saw the twin towers and said, “I’ll hold the airplane, this is where the plane hit the building.” The mother was stunned. These symbols have worked their way into our subconscious. They are so ingrained in our culture, and they’re instantly recognizable. On the other hand, one of the new images is about acid attacks. With those kids, you’d say, “You’re fighting. To hurt that person you pour something that will sting on them.” You talk to them in terms they’re going to understand. And they understand it’s one person hurting another person—that’s the big picture. To start talking about specifics, like bringing in culture, religion… things like that, I think that’s just too big for them to handle. They get the broad strokes. I’m sure it makes for some very interesting conversations on the way home from the photo shoot.