Seattle’s Hawkeye Huey, 5, has thousands of followers online and is working on getting a book of his photographs published next spring.

Share story

One fun thing about photographs, Seattle’s Hawkeye Huey demonstrates, is that you can lay them out on a table and talk about what’s in them, or pick them up like a deck of cards and invent a game with ever-changing rules.

“I take one off the top and put it on the bottom,” says 5-year-old Hawkeye, as if he’s getting ready to double-deal a hand of five-card stud.

The photos that instantly pop out of the top of his Fujifilm Instax are indeed the approximate size and shape of playing cards.

But it’s the photos’ content, and the way they came into being, that has people all over the world tracking this young photographer, who at last count had more than 125,000 followers on Instagram.

They have enjoyed his shots — even a bit tilted or slightly out of focus — of rodeo royalty in Wyoming, dancers at a powwow in Oregon, a balloon-animal busker at the Pike Place Market.

“Have you ever seen ‘Lord of the Rings?’ ” Hawkeye asks as he holds up his photo of the looming Devils Tower formation in Northern Wyoming, a shot that has drawn more than 6,000 Instagram “likes.”

When he shows the rodeo royalty photo, he talks about the excitement of watching cowgirls rope calves, and he demonstrates what a quick toss of the lasso might look like.

This is a big week for this young talent: If things go well with his Kickstarter fundraising campaign, a book of his photos will be published by the time he graduates from kindergarten next spring. Its lengthy but apt title: “Cowboys Indians Hobos Gamblers Patriots Tourists & Sunsets.”

But let’s take a step back and look at how all this came about.

Interest in Hawkeye Huey blossomed in the spring of 2014 when his father posted this image of him. Hawkeye has goggles because dust was blowing, and because they fit with the Luke Skywalker X-wing fighter costume he wore later on.  (Aaron Huey)
Interest in Hawkeye Huey blossomed in the spring of 2014 when his father posted this image of him. Hawkeye has goggles because dust was blowing, and because they fit with the Luke Skywalker X-wing fighter costume he wore later on. (Aaron Huey)

The instant camera that appears bulky as it bounces off Hawkeye’s tummy when he walks was given to him by his father, Aaron Huey, a Seattle-based National Geographic photographer.

Aaron Huey’s work has taken him around the globe, to mountaintops, deserts, combat zones and many locations far off the beaten path. He’s known for his walk across America and his extended documenting of the Lakota Sioux of South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

Last year, he decided to take Hawkeye, then 4, on a four-day exploration of the area around Slab City, Calif., a remote desert oasis where “free spirits” soak up winter warmth in all manner of impromptu housing.

Huey’s wife, Kristin Moore, was a bit nervous at first about her husband heading into strange environs with their then-only child. But she’s grown more comfortable as dad and son have taken on other adventures around the American West. (The couple since has produced a daughter, Juno.)

Heading to that first adventure, Huey picked up the instant camera for his son. It has a minimal number of settings, and photographs that start to appear within a minute after the shot, good for kid-sized attention spans.

Hawkeye Huey plays with instant photographs he took with his father during six trips in 18 months around the American West.  (Erika Schultz/The Seattle Times)
Hawkeye Huey plays with instant photographs he took with his father during six trips in 18 months around the American West. (Erika Schultz/The Seattle Times)

Aaron Huey’s goal, he said, wasn’t to break Hawkeye into the photo business but to deepen the father-son bond. “An experiment in parenting,” he calls it.

On that trip, Aaron Huey took — and posted on National Geographic’s Instagram feed — the photo that launched the public fascination with his son.

In the frame, Hawkeye is holding the camera against his right hip and gazing intently, almost frowning, as he appears to be sizing up the target for his next shot. Goggles to shield him from desert dust are pushed up above his forehead.

Not only did the online public bond with the little guy, it clamored to see what he produced.

What he has produced, Aaron Huey said, is a “knee-high perspective of desert dwellers and tumbleweeds.” Scenes and faces. Pickup trucks and animals. It’s far from technical perfection, but it’s honest, direct and reflects a connection with people and places.

Since then, the father and son have been on a half-dozen other adventures.

More Hawkeye Huey

Kickstarter page

Hawkeye Huey’s Instagram feed

Aaron Huey’s Instagram feed

The online world has taken notice. Hawkeye has been named one of Rolling Stone’s top 100 Instagrammers, and Time magazine’s 50 Instagram accounts to follow. National Geographic Proof and the Huffington Post have highlighted his work.

Despite the attention, Aaron Huey insists he isn’t a stage daddy promoting his son as a prodigy, a phenom or the next big thing.

Instead, what he’d like to encourage is “embracing the creativity and the vision of all children.”

Some Hawkeye fans have speculated about the bright future the youngster might have in photography. But Aaron Huey said he’d prefer that his son take the lessons learned in photography — vision, creativity, connection and responsibility — and apply them to an interest he selects himself.

“This boy is his own being, with his own ideas and his own path to follow,” said Aaron Huey, 39.

In the meantime, the Kickstarter campaign is steaming toward the $35,000 goal it needs to hit by Friday to make the book a reality. Donors can choose from a dozen support levels ranging from $5, which gets an invitation to the book-release party, to a $1,000 gift, rewarded with a one-hour portrait session — and ice cream.

Some of Hawkeye Huey’s photos