Monday, January 30, 2017

Breaking Bread

Ah, breaking bread.  The story of spending time with loved ones and enjoying a meal together.  The story of how love and family is as much a part of a meal as the ingredients themselves.  Every time I think about the details of how this story came to me, I have to pinch myself.  You see, this story unfolded in a way I could have never dreamed.  When my friends found out that I was officially opening my documentary photography business, they reached out to me almost immediately about photographing their family.  I have had many wonderful friends that have inquired about me taking their pictures, but the style of documentary family photography just simply isn't what everyone is looking for - and that's ok.  But with these friends, what I do is EXACTLY what they wanted.  My friends' families were all going to be together for the first time in seven years - and they wanted to hold on to it.  What they wanted documented was their family making their mother's famous breakfast dish together, because this meal is a core piece of who they are as a family.  It tells details about their family that are deeply rooted in love.  It holds memories of the past, while bringing in the details of today.  And after getting to see it all come together, I know it is everything they explained it to be.

I tell every family that I photograph that I understand how huge of a deal it is to not only allow, but invite, a photographer to be a part of their family happenings.  I don't take that lightly.  There are many layers of trust that are built.  There is the initial layer of trust to sit and have a real conversation where you share the details of your family and your story.  Where we dig into what is important about this and other seasons of your life.  There is another layer of trust to take someone into your safe space, and then more layers to open up and allow your family's story to naturally unfold before them.  It isn't for the faint of heart.  But because my friends were willing to do this, they now have this story and these memories to hold onto forever and share with future generations.  And because of their willingness to share, you will see the beauty of the way they have held on to what has made them who they are, while embracing growth into the family you see today.  I hope their story brings the same smile to your face as it did to theirs and mine.  And I hope it has you thinking about your own family traditions and the love you are building, like all great documentary photography should.  Enjoy.

Until next time,

Monday, January 9, 2017

All the Excuses

The week between Christmas and New Year's Eve, my grandfather died.  He would have turned 96 in January, and while he lived a beautiful and long life, death simply sucks.  There are no pretty words.

When I started on my photography journey in 2011, I took my camera everywhere - sometimes I still do.  I would go and visit my family each Christmas with the added hope of getting a good portrait of my grandparents.  They lived 1,000 miles away, so I really only got to see them once a year.  My grandma died in 2013, and it seemed every December, I had high hopes of taking that perfect picture of the two of them, and it just never happened.  Every year, I hated the technical aspects of the pictures I attempted.  I took them because I didn't know if I would have another year, but I beat myself up over every little mistake I made.  I always found something wrong.  There was something in the background, something a little blurry, too dark, too light, too grainy.  Something was always wrong.

But as anyone will tell you, after death, every picture counts.  The blurry ones, the cluttered ones, the dark ones, the grainy ones - they are no less imperfect, but they all count.  Because there are no more to be had.  All the excuses of wanting to wait until my grandma was out of the hospital or my grandpa was able to get around better didn't matter.  The excuses didn't exist any more because life was forever changed.

I recently had this conversation in a documentary group and I said this is why documentary photography speaks so much to my heart.  For those of us who have decided to go the path of documentary, it is because we have somehow glimpsed the other side and we are desperately trying to hold on before today is forever changed.  Maybe it is something as heavy as death, but maybe it is something as simple as having a break in age in our children.  All we know is that we missed it.  The first time around, there was something we so wanted to hold on to, and we can't anymore.  So now we take the pictures to help us hold on.  That's what documentary photography does.  It looks past the clutter, past the blur, past the shadows, past it all - and straight to the heart.  It doesn't pose because it doesn't care.  It looks to the engagement and emotion and the people and meaning of where they are and what they are doing and it holds tightly to it all.  And when you are ready for it, it means you have finally let go of the excuses we all had.  You no longer worry about the extra ten pounds, having the perfect outfits, having the perfect attitudes, wanting a beautiful outdoor location, or even making sure your house is bigger or brighter or cleaner.  All of those excuses are gone and you desperately want to hold on to today, every single detail, just the way it is, imperfections and all, before it's gone.

This may be the first time you will hear me say this: I wish I had taken more photos.  In thinking back on the pictures of my grandparents home, I wish I had it all.  I wish I had either taken or paid a documentary photographer to take pictures in their home.  It was my summer vacation spot for most of my growing up years.  I wish I had pictures of us lounging in the living room, of my grandpa showing family movies, of my grandparents simply having their morning breakfast at the counter - with their pile of mail in the corner, or even the untouched living room with their wedding pictures on the table.  All of those things changed the moment they needed more care, even though the home remained, it wasn't the same, and I missed it.

I beg you.  Take the shot or find someone to do it for you  Whatever excuses you might have for not doing it, just push those aside.  Turn on the lights, open the blinds, push your pile in the closet (or just leave it be), and get the shots you may never be able to have again.


Until next time, 

Thursday, January 5, 2017

January 5-on-5: The End of a Season

I think like most families, after celebrating Christmas for what feels like a month, the end comes with a little bit of a sigh.  The never ending list of things to get and thing to do, all in time for the big day is, well, quite frankly, exhausting.  And for our house, the exiting of our Elf on the Shelf as the holiday begins its descent, is something we make a big deal of.

If you are unfamiliar with The Elf on the Shelf, the short story is that you adopt an elf who keeps an eye on your kiddos and reports back to Santa each night for the month of December.  They fly to Santa through elf magic, which means there is NO TOUCHING of the elves, or they loose their magic and can't tell Santa how wonderful you have been.  When they return, they usually end up in a new spot, and the fun is looking for them (and the potential mischief they have gotten into) each morning.  It's all in good fun and my kiddos enjoy the hunt each morning, but after 24 days of this, let's just say parents might be ready for the elf to head back to the North Pole with Santa.

In our house, we give our elves a special goodbye hug on Christmas Eve.  After all, Santa will be there that very night, and a special Santa touch will restore the elves' magic and allow them to go home.  We also always have a gift to open on Christmas Eve.  This photographer mom decided a few years ago that a REALLY great Christmas Eve gift is nice, new pajamas to wear for Christmas morning.  Ones that aren't too short or nubby or stained or tattered.  Our girl was a little excited about getting elf pj's; can you tell?  My son was more composed and able to contain his excitement (although I did hear him comment on how they were super soft).

 Getting to hold your elf in your hands for the first time is kind of cool.  There are details you likely have missed and textures you certainly haven't had the chance to feel.

 There's also that realization that your elf is a sweet little thing (regardless of how much trouble they might have gotten in) and that you will definitely miss them.

 We make sure to leave them on the table by the door so Santa can find them easily.  This spot by our nativity scene and Bible is a pretty sure spot for finding them most Christmas Eve's anyway.  Our elves like to remind us that at the end of the season, before the presents arrive and the wrapping paper takes over, what were celebrating is the birth of Jesus.

Hopefully your holidays rounded out your year with a bang and you are ahead of us in getting your life back to some level of routine and normal.  We still have some tasks to take care of in that department, but we still have time.

Speaking of time, this circle was created to help our group of documentary photographers have a little extra love and support (who can't use that).  So, make sure to take a few minutes and circle on through.  My lovely friend Jenny, a Southern Michigan Documentary Photographer, is next in the circle.  Check out her work and give her a little comment.  We love to hear that you saw our stories (me included)!

Until next time,