Screen Time is a new series by London-based photographer Sophie Harris-Taylor which documents the faces of children while watching TV. “With the drifting of their imagination, off on stories and flights of fancy, their bodies are left in a kind of unselfconscious tranquillity,” Harris-Taylor writes about the project.
The series started unintentionally after Harris-Taylor captured an image of her son’s friend watching TV at their house. “She was still, completely transfixed by the screen and the light was beautifully cast across her on the sofa,” says the photographer. “The image appeared on a roll of film I had developed and it stuck out.”
While often a source of parental anxiety and guilt, Harris-Taylor flips this and instead considers how screen time is not only “a release” for parents but also sometimes for children, including her own. “Like most things I guess – everything in moderation. But it can give children time to pause and time to rest,” she reflects. “Especially at the end of the day when perhaps they haven’t stopped, it’s sort of meditative.”
Like much of Harris-Taylor’s work, this series feels painterly in aesthetic, and her use of light and shadow creates warmth and an ethereal quality. “I stripped the sofas of any clutter and had minimal clothes so their expressions and bodies almost became undisrupted,” the photographer explains. “I wanted to convey a kind of tranquillity and place of escapism.”
The screens themselves have also been removed from the image, so our focus remains on her subjects. “I’ve tried to come at it from a more neutral place, to cast something so banal in a new light,” she explains. “In this series we see the children without disruption. I tried to highlight the beauty in the way they’re able to escape into these other worlds, allowing their imagination and emotions to drift from the everyday.”
The children featured in the series were ones the photographer already knew and she found this helped, not only in terms of building trust with the parents, but also so her presence in the room wasn’t questioned with the children. “I photographed all the children in their own living rooms and they got to choose what they wanted to watch.”
Working with children typically means that time is not on your side, and in the past it has meant Harris-Taylor has had to work quickly. For Screen Time however, the TV allowed the photographer to take a bit more time as her subjects didn’t mind having to watch more of their programme of choice. “I think you have to respect and understand you’re working with very little people with often very big opinions, and they aren’t afraid to say so – so if they don’t want to sit on a different side of the sofa they’re not going to,” Harris-Taylor says.
“One child I went to capture just decided they didn’t want me to, so I had to respect them and left it there. What I do love is that you never get the same expression twice and they’re really not phased by the camera and how they’ll present themselves so it always feels very real and truthful.”
In past projects, such as Present Fathers, which depicted first-time fathers, and Milk, which took an honest look at breastfeeding, the photographer has chosen to tackle everyday family life in her own way. Screen Time follows suit in that it doesn’t present these screen-based moments in a polarising way, instead Harris-Taylor simply presents viewers with the arresting reality, and the beauty and messiness that often comes with that.