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Are These Portraits of Children Gorgeous or Controversial?

By gabrielleblair |

little ballerina

Emily Ulmer knows how to capture children in an image without any staging. She says, “In my photographs, I attempt to show the beauty of childhood in its most natural state, without the romanticizing interpretation of the adult eye.” I love that thought. But when I posted about Emily’s work on Design Mom, it got a big and varied reaction. Some people think she doesn’t make childhood look happy enough. What do you think?

By the way, she’s just opened up an Etsy shop that I am fawning over.

cute children portraits

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About gabrielleblair



Gabrielle Blair is author of the popular Design Mom blog and a founder of Kirtsy — an influential social media community for women. Gabrielle also blogs at Babble's Family Style. She lives with her husband and six children in Normany, France. Read bio and latest posts → Read Gabrielle's latest posts →

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0 thoughts on “Are These Portraits of Children Gorgeous or Controversial?

  1. JJ5 says:

    Many of my favorite portraits of our children aren’t posed; and in many of those our kids aren’t smiling. I would hate to think that I limit my acceptance of my kids to only those moments when things are “perfect” in the eye of the lens, but not very real.

  2. Missy says:

    I think they’re great for capturing a photo of a child in their “most natural state.” I know as soon as I pull my camera out that’s the face I get from my little one :)

  3. Rik says:

    What I don’t get is how this can be controversial. It’s perfect childhood without all the fancy stuff added. Carefree, messy, clothes on all wonky, barefoot. I love it!

  4. the emily says:

    So interesting. I agree that they are very editorial. I have a million pictures of my kids like this that I just take candidly. But they also are very smiley and happy and playing and jumping a lot of the time. I don’t think this is controversial or creepy, just a different side of children–mine are pensive sometimes too.

  5. Carrie says:

    I appreciate the realness of it all. In an age where every girl is expected to be a princess and be a constant “shirley temple” sweetheart, I appreciate that it captures the real life of the girls in the photos. They aren’t doing anything depressing. They just aren’t hamming it up for the camera. It’s as though she’s capturing the moments between the posed shots.

  6. Jen says:

    I just took a quick look at the site, and didn’t see a single happy face. So… I guess I would have to say that although it okay to have such photos, they sure don’t represent the lives of my kids. They are usually to be seen engrossed in a project, or happily talking about something. I see them sullen like this when they are sick, or at some boring event. I think it’s too much of one thing when a photographer goes for a single mood with children.

  7. Zina says:

    I like the idea of capturing expressions other than the cheesy grins we coax from our kids for photos, and I think that kids are naturally sometimes quiet and even melancholy. But I also think these photos are highly posed romanticizations in their own way (an artsy granola way). Any photo imposes a viewpoint by the choice of subject and how it’s framed, so I’m skeptical of any photographer claiming their work is more authentic than another’s–unless, perhaps, the photographer were very, very sneaky at catching children in the wild. Which doesn’t appear to be the case here, to me.

    I do think these are pretty photos, but I’d want to balance them with mirthful shots, too.

  8. Zina says:

    I just reread some of the comments from last time and also looked at the site and I agree with some others that there’s more of a balance of expressions on the kids at her site than in the selection in the post. I still think the photos are contrived in their own way, but I like some of them. I love this one:–/14

  9. jc says:

    So natural and so beautifully captured, love these shots to bits! Thanks for sharing.

  10. Evangelina says:

    I think it’s beautiful and natural…the way life should be.

  11. Samanda says:


  12. KellyM says:

    As someone who feels blessed to have had Emily take photos of her children, I just wanted to chime in here… Our photo shoot took place in a beautiful canyon and the kids had a blast exploring, playing, chatting, (and yes) giggling with Emily. So, while you may not see any huge grins peeking out at you, you will see another truly beautiful side of childhood. One of my favorite photos of my youngest daughter was taken by Emily. She is holding a feather to her cheek and it just totally captures who she is – a sweet little girl, caught up in the moment…

  13. Stacie says:

    Perfect! Not the usual contrived cheesiness!

  14. Violeta Gill says:

    No smiles at all!! I love taking photos of my boys happy laughing! Not depressed looking.

  15. Erin says:

    the photos i treasure the most are the ones that trigger a memory of a moment in all its fullness. a moment that I glimpsed into the soul of the little emerging person beside me or the moment I caught my child day dreaming and unreachable… each day is full of a range of reactions and emotions. and for me I think it is important to capture not just the happy but the introspective, the sleepy, the wronged, the bursting with elation and yes, even sad feelings in pictures. they are meant for us to remember. so it is up to us…what do we want to remember?

  16. The Woman Formerly Known as Beautiful says:

    Frankly I think photographs that homogenize childhood making children appear uniformly happy ALL THE TIME does a disservice to those of us attempting to parent. We compare the inside of our homes to the outside of glossy advertisements. Childhood encompasses a range of emotions and that’s as it should be.

  17. Clarity says:

    Childhood isn’t 100% happy or smiley. Growing is hard sometimes. Anyone who limits their photos to only smiling children is staging their memories. The photographer Sally Mann has made some of the most stunning images of children, although she has also been labeled “controversial.” Emily’s images are wonderful- I don’t get what everyone’s so worked up over.

  18. Jenny says:

    I love those pictures! There are more emotions in a child’s day than happy or sad. Contemplative, thoughtful, inquisitive, serious, etc. So much of a child’s day is spent in observation with their observation face on so it is odd if you think about it to make your kid smile for a camera when seconds before he or she was making a perfectly different but acceptable facial expression. The photos shouldn’t be considered controversial or depressive because they aren’t screaming ‘cheese’ or practicing their pageant face. Jill Greenberg’s crying babies can be considered controversial, but this is a bit of a stretch.

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