Tenzing is wedged in the bow of a small boat slowly being steered across a quiet, foggy lake. A yellow lifejacket is cinched around his torso and a bulky camera weighs on his neck, threatening to topple him forward at any moment. He lives in the remote hills of the Himalayas, but today, Tenzing could be on top of the world. At six years old, he’s the youngest photographer to shoot for Dazed.
Tenzing is one of 100 kids who appeared on Apple TV+’s Becoming You, a six-part series exploring how the first 2,000 days of life on Earth influence a person’s story. We meet Tenzing in episode one, “Who Am I?”, which looks at the evolution of a child’s identity. Tenzing was three when it was made, and, according to the show’s narrator, was in his “intense fascination” stage. We see him obsessively taking photos as his mother wrestles to get him dressed for school. Tsk, tsk, tsk, goes the camera.
As Tenzing tears around his village with a little red camera, brimming with curiosity, he photographs everything he comes across. Chickens, workers carrying their tools, and little details like a coat pattern or a gravel pit all fascinate him. He stages an impromptu shoot with a friend on the way to school, telling him to “sit properly”. Tsk, tsk, tsk. Shoot now, don’t ask questions later. Two years on, Tenzing’s passion is unwavering when we meet.
Back in the boat, Tenzing raises his camera and starts photographing our fashion director, Imruh Asha, who, with his own camera, does the same. “I like to take photos of you guys, of people,” says Tenzing. Of animals, too? Tenzing nods: giraffes, lions, eagles, vultures and tigers are some of his favourites. He once saw a tiger in the forest. He looks to the sky: “There’s a plane coming. I’m going to take a photo.” As the crew inches closer to the shoreline, Imruh asks Tenzing what his friends thought about the photoshoot.
“They didn’t say anything,” he shrugs. “So you’re not the coolest kid in town now?”
Tenzing’s cover shoot marks a first in a history of firsts for Dazed, one that feels a little bit special. This issue examines what we know of our personal and shared cultural heritage, and how we deal with and explore it creatively. Tenzing’s playful, colourful, widescreen portraits of his friends and community are a million miles from the usual pale, male and stale photographic gaze, and the protected industry names we all know, whose work tends to dominate the landscape. The child’s gaze shatters the illusion – the steeped heritage of a medium that can feel strongly guarded. Maybe, just maybe, it’s the kind of perspective the industry should open its heart to more.
No two journeys can be the same, but it’s impossible to deny the disparities between who has a chance of making it and who doesn’t (recently, a British influencer doubled down on her misguided opinion that we all have the same 24 hours in a day). But time means nothing to someone like Tenzing. At six, he has all the time in the world. What people trying to break into the industry don’t always have, though, is equitable access. The path is paved with unpaid labour and its not-so-secret password is nepotism. Before someone even decides they want in, class, gender and race are just a few factors that will affect how far they get.
It’s an industry that thrives on youth and yet is equally afraid of it. What happens when you hand the wheel over to someone younger and they leave you in the dust? To see the world through a child’s gaze is a blessing: an unfettered glimpse into a curious soul running on love, not yet clouded by the pressures and politics of adulthood. The shoot reminds us all of how it feels to get a ‘first’, and how rewarding it is to give someone the freedom to make their dreams a reality. Mostly, it encourages us to do something for the pure joy of it, because look how fun it is when we do.