Small Steps



Contact #102 of 136, Summer 1996 (click to enlarge).

Throughout the hot summer of 1995, during the latter stages of my wife’s pregnancy, I planned to make some form of diary – of written words and documentary pictures – during the first year of our first child’s life. A first thought was to add my own contribution to our family tree and create a visual document for the older person to look back on, to give – as a personal memento far beyond earliest memories of childhood – on its 18th or 21st birthday.

When a pink dawn broke across south London rooftops, I felt my legs give way and tears fall in the delivery room as our daughter came to us. Until then, we had we no idea if  we were to have a son or daughter, healthy or not so the decision to photograph this tiny baby’s journey from birth to first birthday, as well as her mother’s adventure from expectant to actual motherhood, became a very uncertain project to explore.

Before I started the project that became ‘Ella – From Womb to First Candle’ the work that took a year of hard photography and 60,000 words of daily diary entries, the idea of tackling something more personal than any other personal project, was one of the toughest. If there was a story to tell about parenting, then I was also to discover my role specifically as a doting father. And not only that, I was endeavouring to be around whenever key moments unfolded: The visits; the registry book; inoculations; first haircut; first steps; outings and tears.

In the contact sheet above, it is now the following summer. Ella has been with us to Portugal where she has attempted some tottering first solo steps, the result of which was an immediate tumble onto hot sand and hotel grass. We guessed she was soon ready to walk properly under her own steam and I wanted to make a picture that showed leaving her first symbolic footprints. In the first and last frames I can see myself holding a remote trigger so Ella would launch herself, her mid-way totter between parents.

The perspective I saw from my position was at 90 degrees to the static lens so the processed photography showed an event unseen.

UK - London -

Frame #31

The resulting sequence tells us of Ella’s first independent steps, escaping from the clutches of her mum, 11 months after leaving the womb, of leaving safety. The 2 frames I marked (#27 and #31) and the one I liked best (#31, above) has better time and space. I like the evolutionary Homo erectus upright posture, the hominid’s mastering of balance and momentum.



Ending the year’s work came to represent for me as a father, a wonder. Published as a Mother’s Day essay in many countries, it also became a turning point for me as photographer.

This spread (using a horizontal chronology) ran in one of the last printed issues of LIFE, in June 1998. Three fateful double-page and full-page cigarette ads (“No Waiting! This is where you find satisfying taste at ultra-low tar.”) rings the death knell of this once fine magazine that I read myself as a child.

Ella is 18 soon and I want to mark her reaching adulthood by having this re-published somewhere. There may be a self-published book for her too.


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