My Why - The Real Reason I'm Driven to Photograph Memories
I value the time I have to spend with the people that I care about, doing things we love together and making memories. These are the absolute most important things in my life.
I love taking photos. I have since I can remember. I’ve always played around with taking photos of places I’ve been, concerts I’ve attended, family and friends. It fun and keeps me out of trouble as my mum would say haha!
However, documentary family photography is not just something I enjoy, I am passionately driven to take documentary family photographs. It feeds my soul, makes me feel alive and gives me so much joy. Its something I feel so strongly about. Something I feel so driven to share with others as much as I do with my own family.
The reason is two fold. Loss and Birth.
Loss made me realize how important photos of memories are. You never get that time back and memory fades.
Just a few short years ago, my brother passed away. He was just 19. It was was like one minute he was there and the next minute he was gone and I couldn’t wrap my head around it. I still can’t honestly. Its one of the worst feelings ever to no longer have him around. He left this earth, our family and his life much too soon.
When he passed, the family worked together to make arrangements for the funeral and we took on different tasks to help carry the heavy load. I took on going through family photos to put together for the visitation and funeral. So I grabbed the boxes and boxes of family photos and albums from my parents house, as well as those from my personal collection and started going through them.
It was an experience I will never forget and one that changed me forever.
As I opened each packet of developed photographs (our childhood was well before the digital era), it was like unlocking a memory of him. It was allowing my mind to go back to the happier times when he was still with us. The photos of him coming home as a new baby, of him dressed up in his Super Mario halloween costume our mum had made for him. The shots of him playing house league basket ball in grade school or fishing off the dock or the boat at the cottage. The ones of him playing with my sister (who is 3 years older than him) and of him goofing around with his friends.
While looking at these photos as remembering the stories, I could hear his voice as he was telling us about something weird or funny that happened, hear his laughter as he poked fun at my dad for not being able to catch as many fish as he did. I could hear him yelling at the television when the Maple Leafs missed a goal (he yelled a lot…haha). I could picture him sweeping his hair across his forehead and out of his eyes and then shaking it back down into place. I could see the quirky smile that played on his face when he was about to crack a joke or pull a face.
School portraits and photos of use as a family posing for the camera and smiling were lovely to have as every single photo matters when you lose someone, absolutely. But the ones in the pile that I kept going back to were the candid photos of him, being himself and doing all of the things he loved most with the people he loved.
As my family had gathered to celebrate my brother’s life, the photos helps us share the stories and the details that we all held so dear of my brother. Yes, there were tears of sadness, of course. But not because the photos made us sad, it was the realization that these photos were really all we had left of him that was hitting home.
What also hit hard was the fact that I was in so few of the photographs. I often hid from the camera when it was out unless I was the one behind the lens. I really didn’t like having my photo taken, especially when I was asked to look at the camera and smile. I just wanted to be left alone to do my thing.
Unfortunatley, that meant I was hiding my face in most of the photos of he and I together. Or pulling a grumpy look. Or turned away. Or not in it at all because I was worried about how I would look in the photo.
This fills me with regret every single day.
If I could go back in time and step back into the shot, I would do so, for every single one.
The time we have with our loved ones is fleeting and not guaranteed.
Becoming a parent
The birth of my daughter made me realize how quickly time goes by and how people and places can be so different from one moment to the next.
A little over a year and a half after losing my brother, my daughter was born. And again it was such an eye opening experience as to why photographs are so important.
Children change hecka hecka fast!
The day she was born she has a funky shaped little head from birth, she was pink and puffy and all curled up in a sweet little bundle. She made funny little snuffling noises and grunts and slept the day away.
The next day she looked different! She was a little less puffy, much more alert and she was starting to stretch those little arms and legs out, and discovering what it was like to have seemingly infinite space to move around.
And it hasn’t stopped since! She will be three in July. THREE!!! How did that happen?! It feels like yesterday that we brought her home from the hospital and now she is a walking, talking, adventuring, singing, dancing and opinionated little person! Its amazing.
I knew my love of taking photographs would serve me well as we watched my daughter grow, but documentary photography really took it to a whole new level that I wasn’t expecting.
Let me explain.
I started out like many new parents do. I set my daughter up in a chair each month and took a photo. I wanted to keep a running record of how much she had grown and changed over that first year. Its such a lovely thing to do and share with family and friends and it looks fantastic in the 12 month frame I have hanging in her room. I love them all.
But there were other things that I wanted to capture. Little details and mannerisms, expressions and habits that made her not only a growing baby, but was shaping her into who she is today.
Here is ar photo I took last year. She was obsessed with crayons. Not because she loved to colour, oh no! Instead she loved to peel all of the paper off of each and every crayon in the box. She would stand by her eeeeesle for over an hour and just peel off the paper. We had tiny bits of crayon wrapping all over our house. And she would get little bits of wax stuck under her finger nails.
This photo brings me right back to that time, picking up those little pieces all over the house. And stopping her from treating her friend’s crayons in the same way. And the long hand washing exercises trying to remove that pesky wax from under her nails. But I love it. I miss it.
She would stick her little lip out in concentration while she worked away at this tasks. And she continues to have that same sense of focus, and that little concentration lip, when she is really into a task now.
I have family photos of her milestones too, that I had done by fellow professional photographers. They are beautiful and important to me. They will always have a place in my heart and in our albums.
But its these documentary photos that really pull on my heartstrings and make me nostalgic for those days past. Those little details and moments that made the baby days at home with her so special. The toddler adventures and mannerisms that have changed as she nears three.
I want to hold on to each and every small detail and memory as hard and fast as I can.
I’m so thankful to documentary photography for giving me a way to do just that.