There is something intoxicating about photographs of Luke cuddling our babies. I could look at them for hours. Perhaps it's that I know how comforting and empowering his embrace can be, housing strength, love and protection all in the space between his arms and their tiny little bodies.
Wisely, these children yearn to be close to him, sometimes descending to such unloving acts as pushing and shoving in order to get the best seat. When he is away, or even if he has a few late nights at work, they start to wilt like cut flowers in need of fresh water. As far as children goes, this can mean becoming either incredibly sensitive or downright cranky. The only antidote is a swift reunion.
Sometimes I wish I could clone myself (I imagine every parent does, but in this instance I mean for reasons other than having someone else make dinner and change diapers) in order to capture similar moments shared with me. I'll be sitting on the bed braiding hair or holding a tiny hand as the blender makes its unsettling racket and I will take a snap shot in my mind. Like many photographer parents, I not only want my children to have beautiful memories of their youth, but to have evidence that I was part of it.
I have experimented with taking my own photograph, but often it feels weird. The idea behind candid or documentary photography, or whatever catch phrase is used for capturing real life, is that it isn't contrived. In theory, we shouldn't move water bottles out of the way to get a clean shot or ask someone to repeat their actions under better light. I'm struggling to decide how balancing a camera on a stack of cookbooks in order to capture a manufactured moment fits into all of that. It's not like this scene hadn't played itself out a thousand times over. It's just that this time, I made sure the camera was there.
I guess we can leave it at this: if you happen to see a photograph with me in the scene, it's likely a set up (this was an exception). Same goes for anything involving clean children sitting nicely and looking like angels. Everything else is as real as it gets.
There’s been a lot of talk in recent days about showing girls the value of personal authenticity—that the best version of themselves is the one they are to themselves, likely when they think no one else is watching, and that being a little rough around the edges is better than feeling like you have to pretend you aren’t. At least, that’s the message I’m taking from the viral sensation that is Kate T. Parker’s photographic series, “Strong is the new pretty.”
From what I’ve read, part of the reason behind Parker’s project was a desire to show her girls they don’t have to be the picture of magazine perfection to be valued. Parents might also heed that advice, since they are the ones entering kids in cover photo contests or having people vote for their baby to be deemed the cutest in order to win a year’s supply of god-knows-what.
It’s a wonderful message for us all to hear, but part of me also thought, “how sad are we that the concept of encouraging our girls to be true to themselves is so novel, it garners the attention of the Today Show and CNN?” Then I remember how far society is from understanding things like equality, respect, and individuality. Group think is safe. Different is scary.
It reminds me a little bit of Tracey Spicer’s TEDx talk. I encourage you to watch this brilliantly engaging woman break down the cumbersome daily ritual that takes her from a frizzy-haired, fair blond with a less-than-perfeclty flat stomach (i.e., one that has housed babies), to a culturally acceptable, coifed, tucked and tanned TV host. At one point, she talks about the trouble she has explaining the point of this song and dance to her young daughter. What does it say to our kids when they see us painting our nails, straightening our hair or putting on various forms of face goop? We say, “Be yourself! You’re perfect!” Then we show them how we feel the exact opposite about ourselves.
So perhaps, by the same vein, photography is best platform to expose people to a different form of “perfect little girl.” After all, we see before we hear. This I learned during my brief stray from radio into the world of television news. You can have an amazing story, but if you don’t have pictures, you ain’t got shit. If Parker’s story is that her kids are amazingly real and unique characters worthy of celebration, there is no better way to prove it than to for her to show not tell.
As someone newly-smitten with the art of photography, I took something else away from all this. It’s a similar message, but one directed at me, not my kids. It’s that, as a photographer, it’s okay to do your own thing. I’m not sure what I’ve been aiming for recently, but I’m often crippled by the idea that actual photographers will look at my work and think, “I hope she doesn’t think she knows what she’s doing because x, y, and z are all wrong.” I struggle with the notion that there is a right and wrong and that there are little details I can’t see that give my ignorance away.
Then I see a series like this and I am struck by the variety, the freedom and the pushing of envelopes. The images are divine. They inspire me to experiment with scene, perspective and composition but also with the aftermath. Some of her photographs look like screenshots from a Wes Anderson movie, speaking to me from a land caught between truth and fantastical. Seeing something like this, I realize a good photograph isn’t just what I see through the lens, it’s also what I see through my imagination. If I play around with it, maybe people will catch a glimpse into that crazy world inside my head.
I’m not saying I don’t have more to learn (if we compare my photographic journey to climbing Everest, I haven't even bought my ticket to Nepal). I’m just saying it’s okay to play around and be flawed in the process. I’m pretty sure that’s the message Parker is trying to convey to her kids. She just probably didn’t realize it was a lesson the rest of us could take to heart.
I have realized something over the last few days: writing is g.d. hard when your inspiration is out of town. Seriously. I figured if I finally gave myself an outlet, the words would flow. The ideas certainly do. But I don’t want to post crap. No one has time to read crap. Most people don’t even have time to read stuff that isn’t crap.
My need to write is a physiological thing that happens at unpredictable and often inconvenient times. It’s like a fart. If you’re at home alone, you can let it out freely without having to worry about others being around to experience what’s going on. It might stink, but time will fix it and no one will be the wiser. If you’re in public, well… then it’s all about repression of instincts.
I think this is why I’ve become so interested in photography. You don’t need three hours to take a decent photograph, especially if you consider yourself a documentary or “real-life” snapper. Let life happen and hopefully you’ll have your camera ready when something interesting presents itself. Then you can edit when the kids go to sleep or when they’re trying to pull your pants down or, even better, when your husband takes them to the pool — both of them, together, without another adult (my hero).
In my experience, which is very little, you can still dabble with presets when you’re sleep deprived. In fact, I find it relaxing to fiddle around with a photo in post processing. Does it look better in black and white or colour? What if I boost the contrast? Does that look too fake? Is fake okay?
Writing, on the other hand, requires me to have some semblance of mental function. I should mention here that I am in no way saying real photographers can work in their sleep. It’s much more of a honed craft for them. They know what works and what doesn’t and how to manipulate a photo (either before or after they take it) to look just right.
I’m sure if I sent some of my shots off to for some CC, as they call it, my photographer friends would come back with a plethora of suggestions for how to improve the exposure triangle, the lighting, the saturation, the composition or all of the above. They would suggest changes I couldn’t have seen because they never would have occurred to me. It’s similar to when people send me their writing. I suggest changes they couldn’t see because they aren’t used to the puzzle known as structural flow.
I think that’s my favourite part about editing. Often when people send me a piece, it isn’t the writing that needs help, it’s the structure. Move that sentence here, flip that paragraph around and, often, find the lede somewhere in the middle. You’re still getting from point A to point B, but without as many obstacles or switchbacks. There are times, though, when I get carried away and commit the asshole crime of editing for style. I pay penance for that because I know how much it sucks to have someone hijack your mojo.
I suppose that could also happen with photos. The eye is so personal, as we all learned from the black and blue dress. You know, the one that *isn’t* white and gold? I keep asking photographer friends for editing advice, but I’m not respecting the difficulty they must face in separating personal style from direction.
I need a moment here as I feel the enormity of creative possibilities that exist in the world. Can you imagine if we all liked the same music or read the same genre of book or ate the same food? Life would be boring as shit. The interesting thing is that we sometimes fail to see the value in those differences. We look at ourselves and subconsciously ask whether our clothes or cars or even parenting philosophies jive with the concept we want to present to the world. We see outliers and either envy their ability to stray from the norm or flee from the discomfort of something that’s too different.
I met a lady the other night — normal person/mom/wife like me — and she had the most amazingly rad hair. I thought, good god this woman is fantastic! I immediately started imagining myself with this kick-ass hairdo. Then I quickly came back to my own reality. I loved it on her, and it may very well look great on me, but it’s not who I am. I am subtle. I wear run of the mill clothes. I don’t dye my hair, I don’t do my nails and I only wear jewelry when I feel the need to look grown-up.
I am just me. And today I wrote about writing farts and rad hair.