Kids exploring risky play in the city

Young Explorers is a series of two-minute films that visually examines what happens when you allow toddlers to explore a city completely alone. Jacob Krupnick, a Brooklyn-based filmmaker and photographer is behind the project.

Krupnick’s work incorporates movement and storytelling in public spaces, and Young Explorers is a continuation of that. The focus however is on very young children who have just learned to walk by themselves. Most of the children are between one and a half and two and a half years old.

Changes in America

Jacob Krupnick told ICP: “In America, raising kids is a process filled with love and fulfillment, but also characterized by paranoia. There’s a tendency to protect our kids from any potential sources of harm, shower them with praise, and carefully curate their every experience. But this anxiety and vigilance is a recent thing. It certainly wasn’t always this way—my dad grew up hunting in his backyard after school; my mom grew up casually cruising around Greenwich Village in the 1950s.”

With debates and concerns over helicopter parenting and legislative changes in Utah regarding ‘free-range’ parenting, Krupnick asks viewers ‘what happens when we lower our guard, and trust that things will be alright’. In the video below we follow Sylvie a one-year-old toddler as she staggers across the busy streets and sidewalks of Manhattan.

The benefits of visual ethnography

Krupnick employs an observational filmmaking technique which is part and parcel of visual ethnography. He explains: “While they’re playful pieces, I’ve approached the films seriously, taking careful control of movement and focus and timing to help them rise above cute. I know they’re lovely and punchy and humorous, but these things can eclipse the underlying messages: kids are strange, mysterious little people. And they need a little bit of danger in their lives. I hope the work is a little bit provocative in this way, and uses the joyfulness as a hook to draw viewers into a two-minute adventure.”

Visual ethnography is a research method that invites us to explore participants’ experiences and meaning-making (Frith et al., 2005). One of the perks of using visual methods is that it can successfully overcome communication barriers and allow participants to express themselves in their own way. This is particularly helpful when working with young children as Krupnick did.

Krupnick argues: “Kids do not want to be contained – they are built for adventure. As a culture, we are wildly protective of our little ones, often to the point of protecting them from happy accidents and mistakes they might learn from.”

You can check out the rest of the Young Explorers video series here.

Author: Julia Zvobgo

Julia Zvobgo is a Cultural Anthropologist and the Community Manager of Child in the City.

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