30 Year Anniversary: How E.T. Shaped The Imagery of Childhood

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Image Source / Charles Gullung

Released in 1982 the huge success of Steven Spielberg’s E.T. was due to passing itself off as a movie about an alien, but in reality was it was a touching exploration of the changing nature of the American family, single-parenting, and most of all the private lives of children.  And it changed the imagery of childhood

30 years on, how we picture kids, and what they represent in advertising has been shaped by Spielberg’s vision, but has also been influenced by different kinds of anxieties around childhood, themes that are played out in recent Image Source shoots.

The low camera angles Spielberg uses in the movie, immersing the audience in the perspective of a smaller person was as striking a moment as any special effect. The window the movie gives on the rituals and rules of childhood, the secret codes and loyalties, the improvised rituals. Spielberg had worked with kids on Close Encounters and didn’t have any problems with directing young, inexperienced actors.

Image Source / Charles Gullung

Charles Gullung’s The Game shoot, echoes not just motifs in E.T. with its low angles and macro-shots, but also other 80s movies about adolescence and teenage-hood when directors such as Rob Reiner (Stand by Me), John Hughes (The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller) and Francis Coppola (The Outsiders, Rumble Fish) began to give a credible voice and a visual language to children, adolescents and (mainly male) teenagers.

Image Source / Eve Miller

Gullung’s photos convey that mix of confidence, shyness and hope, the charisma of being in a gang of friends who support you. Eve Miller’s Idyllic Childhood shoot does something similar for a slightly younger age-group, pitching its vision in the memory of summer vacations, tree-climbing and hide-and-seek. These two shoots are in some ways idyllic but only in the sense that many kids don’t have freedom now and sometimes as social commentators point out because adults micro-manage lives through wanting to do the best for them and sometimes out of fear.

As far as trends in advertising imagery is concerned The Game and Idyllic Childhood are less about picturing a fantasy of childhood, and more about flying a flag for the Freedom of childhood, cluing in to adult nostalgia for the kinds of freedom to make your world up that we had as children.

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