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5-Year-Old Becomes Youngest National Geographic Photographer

What started as a father-and-son trip through the American southwest turned into a trip to remember (and now a book) for National Geographic photographer Aaron Huey and his then 4-year-old son Hawkeye Huey. "We were going on our first really big trip; five days away from mom—she needed a break and we needed an adventure!" says Huey.

Aaron Huey started his career in photography when he documented an isolated region in the Georgian Republic. "I returned to that same community three years in a row and on that 3rd trip I created a body of work that became my first photo essay."

But this trip with his son, Hawkeye would be different. Aaron purchased his son his first analog camera, a Fuji Instax210, and encouraged him to capture what they saw along the way. From their fort made out of blankets to Salvation Mountain, what his son captured has landed him on Rolling Stones' "100 Best Instagram Accounts," a slot in Time magazine's "50 Photographers to Follow," 125,000 followers on Instagram and a contract with National Geographic to protect his images. We caught up with this father and son duo as they launched their Kickstarter campaign to publish Hawkeye's first photography book. They are on the last leg of raising $35,000.

Tell us more about the father-and-son trip that started this entire Kickstarter campaign.

We were traveling to the Salton Sea in Southern California, to make—and then sleep in—blanket forts in the desert. The blanket fort blew away on the first day, but luckily we had bought Hawkeye an analog camera on the way there so the adventure changed shape around what remained.

After that first trip, when I knew I wanted to travel to make more images, we went to rodeos in Wyoming, all over the Navajo Nation, Las Vegas, Santa Fe, Mount Rushmore, the deserts of Utah. It was a whole huge loop of stops in the American West. We took mom with us on this trip; it was 19 days in a mini trailer towed behind our car.

What made you buy Hawkeye an instant film camera for the trip instead of a digital camera?

I wanted it to be an analog camera, like the cameras of my youth, partly out of my own nostalgia for film and the scarcity of physical images today, but also because I didn't want to see a 4-year-old learn about making photographs by holding his finger on the touchscreen of an iPhone until the device was filled with hundreds of photos of nothing. I wanted to find a way to slow down the process. To make each frame mean something. To make it about meeting people, for each frame to become an interaction.

Hawkeye only shoots on instant physical film. Fuji Instax to be exact. I will not be teaching him digital yet, but I will if he asks me someday down the road.

Can you describe the editing process for the book? Out of the 1000 photos he took, how many made it into the book and what were you looking for to include in the book? Did Hawkeye help make the selections?

Some 120 images made it in. Hawkeye helped make some of the pairings in the book, but mostly he wanted to leave the room and play with Legos. He would sit watch me edit saying things like "I remember that!" and then tell me little stories about what we did together. The book in this stage really becomes a collaboration because I take my aesthetics and experience with editing and storytelling and craft the final object that people will own.

What did you hope to get out of this trip and what did you learn as a father?

I hoped to get time alone with my son to have a great adventure and make great memories. The photography was really secondary. It was our excuse to take crazy trips and meet people. Hawkeye is already a very social little dude, but I think that photographing people in this way opens him up to a lifetime of communicating with people who are very different than him and different than our local community.

I think so many people get locked into a comfort zone with how we see the world and who we interact with, and we do that by limiting our exposure. Photography is one way for us to shatter that comfort zone, to be reminded every day that we venture out with our cameras, that there are infinite worlds to explore — that we are not the center of the universe, and that our ideas are among the many perspectives and manifestations of life that make up this world. I hope for nothing less for my son, whether it is through photography or another medium of communication. It is all really about a way of seeing and experiencing the world, and the camera is just one exercise.

As a father I learned more about what I already knew to be true — that we cannot determine the path of our children. That they are wholly separate beings with their own path in life and that we have to support them in building their own unique voice.

We had fun making the art I am known for, but it has become clear over the 18 months that Hawkeye's brain and heart are moving towards engineering style projects — design and building. It is time to move this work out into the world and start our next chapter together, with Hawkeye leading this time.

What advice would you give parents that are looking for a creative outlet for their children?

This project is not about a prodigy, or about making Hawkeye famous. This is about the creative genius in all children. Whatever the creative outlet might be, try taking it to the next level. If it's sculpture, stop building 6-inch-tall popsicle stick pieces and try using a nail gun and 2x4s. If it's painting, give them a whole basement wall and make a 3-foot-long brush. Big isn't necessarily better though, so just be creative with it. It's really about leaving the constraints of predrawn, fill-in-the-color, inside-the-lines books, and making the world into your canvas.

You can still contribute to Hawkeye's Kickstarter campaign, which ends on October 23.

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