Effingham, Illinois-based photographer Tytia Habing’s ongoing series “This is Boy” beautifully captures the dichotomy of peace and wild energy inherent in its subject-her young son. The series, presented exclusively in black and white, features Habing’s son over a period of several years. Usually with her son as the sole subject, the series displays a remarkable range of emotion as he shifts from contemplative, to vivacious, to vulnerable.
“When I first became pregnant, I secretly hoped for a girl. I got a boy. That was over five years ago now. My life has since been filled with dirt, broken toys, shoes full of sand, sticks, scraped knees, cut up cardboard boxes, mud, toy guns, dinky cars and a never ending sense of amazement at this foreign little creature I brought into this world. This is boy.”
Habing describes herself as “mostly self-taught”, having taken a beginner's photography class to fill an elective credit while getting a degree in Landscape Architecture. Habing was encouraged to pursue photography after winning a competition through the university’s photography department. Initially shooting film and printing her work in a home darkroom, Habing switched to digital equipment after a house fire destroyed most of her family’s belongings.
Of her series, Habing says she prefers candid photographs, relying on being able to capture her subject in the moment, rather than setting up a photograph. “There are occasions where he does something that I love, or he’s in the perfect light and then moves and I’ll ask him to do it again or move back to where he was. But I don’t think things up and stage them. I learned very quickly that doesn’t work for the way I shoot and it wouldn’t be a fun thing for him either.” As her son gets older, Habing says he is becoming more aware of the camera, and will occasionally demand that she stop taking photographs; “honestly I think it’s more of a power trip for him than anything else. He knows he has the power to tell me something and I have to respect his wishes, and that’s fine and I do.” Despite his growing awareness of the camera, Habing says, “he just wants me to be watching him, like every other kid in the world wanting their mom’s attention at all times.”
The choice to photograph the series in black and white, Habing says, was partially about her love of black and white (she initially began shooting without color) and partially about the mood of black and white imagery. “Black and white strips the image down and there are no distractions, just the scene and the subject. I do like color and have taken a few images in this series that I feel are stronger in color, but it didn’t feel like a cohesive body of work with color images added.”
Drawing inspiration from a myriad of sources, Habing says she tries to stay true to her own ideas, and to embrace her unique style: “The world is an inspiring place! It’s a fine line between inspiration and copying, but as we all know, everything’s been done before. You just have to try and put your own stamp on what you do. It’s very easy to get sucked into shooting like other photographers you see online, to run with the herd so to speak. Different is good though. My style of shooting is certainly not for everyone, but that’s okay with me. If you try to cater to everyone and want everyone to like you, you will become very homogenized…”
I asked Habing about the duration of her series, especially because of its personal nature: “It was never a conscious decision to begin ‘This is Boy’. It just kind of happened. I don’t know when it will end…until I or my son decides it’s over with I suppose.” Habing is currently working on a collaborative project with close friend and fellow photographer, Kristianne Koch Riddle. The project is a book that includes images from “This is Boy”: “images of my son living the life of a boy out in the country in Illinois, and her son, living a California life. The lifestyles are completely opposite, yet the images can be so similar at times and very complimentary of each other.”
Habing is a member of the Society for Photographic Education and the recipient of Best in Show for her work in Images of Illinois. Her work has been featured in publications such as Lenscratch and Shots Magazine. More of Habing’s work can be found on her website.