I should start by saying this is not a post bashing posed photography. I friggin love posed photography, it’s beautiful and pretty and lovely. Every parent wants pictures of their children that looks like they belong in a magazine, I want them too. However, as a photographer, I’ve decided that’s not my “thing.” I have it, posed portraits, all around my house, as I’m sure you do. I love those photos, and I think they are valuable.
But I also think documenting real interactions and smiles is so incredibly valuable. I don’t know what it is, maybe a fear that things in the past will be forgotten, or fear of a tragedy that changes everything in your life. I want to look back and see all the beauty I live every day. Ya know, that messy, frustrating toddler stage where they are adorable but also you want to squeeze them so tight they can’t move. I want to remember it, because when my girls are tweens I will wish to go back to those days and relive it. But you can’t, it’s gone. I don’t know about you guys, but my memory is a little groggy from all the lack of sleep. I can only rely so much on my memory, but a photo can take you back and bring a crystal clear remembrance of the day, the emotion, the life you once lived but has transformed into some new beautiful phase.
I want my kids to look at those pictures when they are grown and say, “That is so mom, look at that face she’s making, she always makes that face.” I’m sure you all have boxes of old photos of your family, maybe you have a lot or maybe there are only a few treasures. I always enjoy looking through those boxes and seeing my parents when they were young, and uncovering a mystery of who they were before I was born, and when I was little. For me, personally, that as far back as the photos I have go: pictures of myself growing up and immediate family, as well as a few pictures of my parents and their siblings. I don’t have anything of my grandparents and certainly not my great-grandparents. I wish I did, but if I did have it, I wouldn’t want it to be the posed portraits that tell me nothing at the people in the picture. I would want it to be the moments, the laughs, the interactions.
I want my grandkids to look back and know who I was. How big was my smile? Did I wrinkle my nose? Has that trait been passed on to others in the family? How did she show her love? I want to be able to not only have those questions be answered, but to show them those photos and let them decide for themselves what kind of person I was, what my personality was.
I know my family will be able to have those answers, but I know many families won’t have that. Most people aren’t aware of and don’t fully understand the concept of a documentary photography session, storytelling photography, family photojournalism, whatever you want to label it. And if they are, they might think it’s great for other people but maybe not for them. Let me be the first to tell you, it IS important for you, because these memories are for you but they are also for your children and your children’s’ children.
What if I told you all of these things about your next family photography session:
- You don’t need to get all dressed up in matching outfits (Why do we do this anyway? Never at any other time in my life would I wear the same thing as my mother or brother-in-law.)
- You don’t need to spend four hours fixing yours and your kids hair
- You don’t need to yell at your kids for messing up the hair you spent all day on or dripping food on those fine clothes
- You don’t have to talk your husband into doing said photo session in the first place (okay-this is a stretch)
- You can ENJOY your photo session. In fact, it can be, dare I say, FUN!
I’m not joking here, all above statements are true! That is one of the joys of documentary photography. It’s your family being your family, wearing your normal clothes, in the places your family feels most comfortable (wherever that might be).
I know what you’re thinking, why the heck would I want pictures of me looking like I always look?
Well, let me ask you to do something. Think of the relationships that are most important to you. Your spouse, your mom, your grandparents, your children, Aunt Millie, your pet…. Now think of some of your fondest memories you’ve had with those people. Spend some time thinking about this, let it soak in for a minute. Have you done it? Of course not, you’re waiting to see what I say next.
I’ll help you. Here are some of mine.
My husband– our long walks before we had children filled with talks of what the future holds for us, our fun valentine day surprises we do for each other each year (even though I HATE surprises, he does it and I end up loving it), how magical Christmas is with him because he’s a big kid at heart, our late night spontaneous ice cream trips
My oldest daughter– the way she needs just one more hug and kiss before she can close her eyes for bed, our trip to Disney World and that the magic it created for her, when she wakes in the morning and tip toes to my bed to tell me the sun is awake
My baby – the way she looks at me when I come to get her out of her crib, and her whole body screams that she loves me and is so happy to see me, my amazing experience having a natural birth
My mom– our late night baking when we feel like we want something sweet and the delusional laughter from being way too tired, jumping on the trampoline with my mom and brother, long bike rides together through the wooded country roads (before she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis)
My brother– going into the woods to play together in the stream when there was no fighting because we were working together to create something, or when we would throw dried up cow pies at each other (gross, I know)
So now that you have a list (because I know you made a list- right?!) how do you feel? Good, happy, blessed, like you have a full life? These memories make up your relationships. Now how many of these things have actually been captured in photos? For me, it’s almost none of them, and the pictures I do have are mostly of scenery or they don’t really capture the moment, but are the typical, “Stand there and look at the camera and say ‘cheese’” type of picture. Imagine if you had a professional photographer that was a fly on the wall in those moments, living the moment with you and preserving what your relationship with that person looks like, in an artistic way. It would be priceless. For you and for your future generations. To be able to look at a picture that speaks the persons’ character and being able to decipher the dynamic relationship those people have from that pictures of that moment.
In 20 years do you want to look through the photo album and be transported back to your life and remember that phase with clarity? I do. I want my great-grandkids to look at those pictures and be able to see my personality. Did my great-grandma laugh a lot? Was she gentle or stern? Did she live a full life? I want my children to recognize me in my photos. I want them to look at those pictures and say, “look, mom is still wearing that nasty tattered shirt from High School.” I want them to be able to remember it so clearly.
Now, before you draw your conclusions on documentary photography, let me set your mind at ease. I wouldn’t be hiding in the bushes and popping out now and again to take pictures, like the paparazzi. I’m there with you anticipating those moments that I “feel” in my gut are coming up so I can freeze them forever. To be cherished and reminisced over often.
Now, I can’t say that all my pictures are “pretty,” they aren’t really light and airy and perfect. But I will say that my goal is more towards beauty, which I think has a little more depth. I want to make pictures that have meaning, that are emotive, you don’t just see them but you feel them. Because that is what I want to remember 20 years from now.
What honest life moments/relationships/traditions would you like to have captured by a professional photographer? I’d love to hear what is most important to you!