The baby time-lapse trend

By Vanessa Barford
BBC News Magazine


Baby time-lapses - which see parents take daily images of their child, and run them together - are becoming increasingly common. So are they now the ultimate way of documenting a child's development?

Parents have always been fond of storing sentimental keepsakes - a first tooth or lock of hair - as their child grows up.

And pictures marking significant milestones - birthdays or their first day of school - are a mainstay of mantelpieces.

But there is now a much more ambitious trend in cataloguing a child's growth. And rather than being something typically kept within the privacy of the home, it prides itself on going public.

Take the time-lapse of Natalie , who grows from birth to 10 years old in one minute and 25 seconds. It has racked up seven million hits since it emerged on YouTube in 2008.

Or a pregnant mother and her partner's take on the trend, which encapsulates the nine-month pregnancy cycle in just 90 seconds .

Clearly, for some snap-happy parents, posting a couple of hundred pictures on Flickr is not enough. They are posting them every day. Others are creating video montages to capture the process.

So what motivates parents to create baby time-lapses - and are they becoming the ultimate way of recording a child's development?

Munish Bansal, 39, a bookkeeper from Gillingham, Kent, has been recording every day in his children's lives from the day they were born. He has now amassed more than 10,000 photos of Suman , 16, and Jay , 13, which are displayed on a dedicated website.

image captionMunish Bansal has taken photographs of his daughter Suman Bansal every day since her birth on 16 May 1996 (left). The following images are taken on her birthday every year since then.
image captionSuman on 16 May 1998 (left) and 16 May 1999 (right)
image captionSuman Bansal on 16 May 2000 (left) and 16 May 2001 (right)
image captionSuman Bansal on 16 May 2002 (left) and 16 May 2003 (right)
image captionSuman Bansal on 16 May 2004 (left) and 16 May 2005 (right)
image captionSuman Bansal on 16 May 2006 (left) and 16 May 2007 (right)
image captionSuman Bansal on 16 May 2008 (left) and 16 May 2009 (right)
image captionSuman Bansal on 16 May 2010 (left) and 16 May 2011 (right)
image captionSuman Bansal on her birthday in 2012

"I decided it was something I wanted to do before Suman was born - I wanted to see the daily changes, and it was also for family in India.

"I thought I'd only do it for a few years, but then it seemed a shame to stop. When you look at the photos, it's like fast forwarding a movie, you can see how she used to laugh, smile, and look - it's wonderful," he says.

Bansal says he "has to be strict" with himself to keep up the practice. And on one occasion, when his daughter went to France, he had to get friends and teachers to take the pictures in his place.

In an ideal world, he says he would like to carry on taking photos until his children are 18 years old, but it depends on how they feel when they go to college. At the moment, they love the attention, he says.

"Either way I feel as if I have achieved a goal - and I will hopefully have given my children a gift which they can pass it onto their children."

image captionFrans Hofmeester documented his daughter Lotte's progression through childhood, pictured above from infancy to age 12

For Dutch filmmaker Frans Hofmeester, who has been filming his daughter Lotte, 12, every week since she was born, a time-lapse was never something he set out to achieve.

"She was changing at such a rapid pace, I felt like I needed to document the way she looked, the sounds she made, to keep my memory intact.

"I developed a rhythm of filming every week, and editing a film every birthday. When my son Vince came along, I started doing the same thing," he says.

image captionHofmeester also captured his son

Hofmeester says the process became "more intense, more powerful" as time passed, until he realised he had "something special in his hands, which he had to do something with".

However he says he was "overwhelmed" by the reaction to the result - the Lotte time-lapse video from birth to 12 in two minutes 45 seconds - which went viral and clocked up 3.7m views on Vimeo in one week.

Hofmeester puts the appeal down to the "soul feeling" of the live images, which "touches people", as well as the natural draw of children.

"It is also the most essential example of what life is - there are so many emotions in just three minutes," he says.

It is easy to understand how the creators of baby time-lapses get captivated by them, but their wider appeal is perhaps more surprising.

Especially in light of a recent poll of Facebook users, which puts baby photos as the second most irritating picture annoyance on the website.

So how popular are baby time-lapses, and why do other people like viewing them?

Kathryn Blundell, the editor of Mother & Baby Magazine, says whereas parents are often drawn to time-lapses because of an awareness of how fleeting childhood is, their wider appeal is, in part, because of the "hypnotic and memorising" element of the medium.

"It's like when you watch the David Attenborough flower opening - there is a fascination, it pulls you in," she says.

According to Blundell, baby time-lapses are part of a growing trend that has developed alongside technology.

"Whether it's photo albums, videos, or babies that now have their own Facebook pages and Twitter pages with updates like 'I've pooped my pants', to mums writing their own blogs, Mumsnet and Pinterest, the culture is already out there.

"In a way, baby time-lapses are the modern scrapbook," she says.

Ellis Cashmore, professor of culture, media and sport at Staffordshire University, agrees technology has simply given parents another means of documenting their child's development - but he believes baby time-lapses also reflect a much broader shift in society.

"We have a different concept of the private life than we used to, even 20 years ago. The concept of shielding something away from public attention has virtually been abandoned - we share practically everything nowadays, not just in social media, but in day-to-day interactions.

"So whereas in the mid 20th Century sharing photos of your children may have been a cause of embarrassment, the advances in media, which started with the introduction of television, have incrementally changed the notion of what is private," he says.

Of course some parents are uncomfortable with baby photos being put online, or fear they may be open to abuse or manipulation. Critics also argue a child should have a right to decide whether it has a digital footprint, not parents.

But a study by internet security company AVG, which found that 92% of children in the US had an online presence by the time they were two years old, with countries such as the UK and France not far behind at 81%, suggests the majority of parents are more relaxed.

However those that think baby time-lapses are set to be the norm are misguided, according to Greg Hobson, curator of photographs at the National Media Museum.

"It is an interesting phenomenon and I think people tend to connect with these time-lapses as they are human beings, and there are intonations of death and the passing of time - in a similar way to time-lapses of fruit or flowers decaying - which make us aware of our own mortality.

"But these are essentially family shots, so while it is interesting to see new something on the internet, the attention span for these things is relatively short," he says.