family

Using Your Family As Photo Subjects

What Do You Dream About?

A generous On Taking Pictures listener gifted me a copy of Sally Mann’s Immediate Family for our gift exchange during the holidays, and it has me thinking about family photos. As a parent, family photography came naturally. Is there a better way to capture your kids growing up?

Unless you’re a parent, a lot of this won’t be clear. But for those parents out there, you instinctively know how important family photography is.

In her memoir, Hold Still (which is a great read, by the way – give me a memoir over an autobiography any day) Mann tells her photography students:

Photograph what is important to you, what is closest to you, photograph the great events of your life, and let your photography live with your reality.

“Your reality” could include dreams, or emotions, or flowers by a big window. For parents, “what is closest” is often our children, especially at first. And what is photography if not to capture something before its gone?

Photographing the family has a few side benefits. For one, it’s just good practice. Think about shooting something every day, week after week. and then add in that you have a readily-available subject who more or less cooperates. Want to try out a new technique? Want to test a new piece of gear? Need to sketch out an idea? “C’mere, kiddo. Stand here.”

Second, while I love a good snapshot, I love making art with my family even more. I put feelings into the photos I make of my family, and that lends them a greater weight. Maybe they don’t mean anything to the casual observer. And maybe the kids, themselves, will look back and wonder why I made such a fuss. But with my family photos, I’m the audience (okay, maybe the grandparents, too).

Can I show someone that I love them by taking their photo? I believe so. That’s the ultimate reason I photograph my family. All you need is love, as John Lennon sang. It’s the ultimate personal project.

So now, I look for examples of good family photos, a genre I would never had been interested if it weren’t for exploring image making with my own kids. If I get the same sense of fondness and artistic expression – artists living with their reality, as Mann says – then the photographer has succeeded.


Easter Sunday

Maybe it’s the colors, or maybe because it’s Spring, but Easter is always one of my favorite holidays to shoot.

We had a good (and busy) one this year, full of Nintendo gear and jelly beans. And the weather was fantastic.

Birth. Rebirth. The world waking up. The birds chirping. Our collective sweet tooth, satisfied.


Keep the Story Going

Family Photo Book

It’s that time of year again – time to get our annual photo book featuring pictures from 2016.

Making a family photo book is one of my favorite yearly rituals. Each holiday season, I gather up the photos from the year and assemble them into an album, usually 8″ x 10″ and 20-40 pages. The cover image is always something from our summer vacation.

This year, I went with a Blurb book instead of Apple’s Aperture/Photos options. Here’s a tip: Follow Blurb on Twitter to get periodic discount codes. At 35% off, my photo book was a good deal.

Keep your story going long after you pass away, or your hard drive dies: print your photos. Make a book of your photos. You’ll be glad you did.


Holiday Break

I’m lucky to work in higher education, where the week between Christmas and the new year are seen as an automatic holiday. This year, I took a few extra days before Christmas off, meaning a lot of time at home with the family.

What did we do? Not much. A bit of repair work on my car, some house showings, a couple of sick kids to contend with, and the busy back-and-forth of family holiday time. I was able to dig into a few photo books – Alex Webb’s The Suffering of Light was a nice Christmas gift – and think about my creative work for 2017.

But mostly, it was just what I had hoped for: quiet time, doing quiet things.

Happy New Year.

 


Christmas Cookies

Every year for Christmas my wife makes these great molasses cookies – a ton of them, with homemade frosting.

We take a day and decorate them in our favorite themes and characters, and then we share with friends and family over the holidays. It’s a great little family tradition.

I’ve missed working on video stuff so much since leaving Albion that I grabbed my Canon 6D, a 50mm lens, and took some video and photos. It was fun to edit footage and make a little film again. The process is one of those flow state situations, and I do miss it.

In photography, think about photo projects or series as opposed to single images. So many of us simply capture little snippets of video of family, friends, and outings. With all the (free!) tools at our disposal, it’d be fun to see more people put in the effort to making video stories, not just clips.


Tree Shopping

Last year, we didn’t get to Gwinn’s until darkness covered the tree lot. We picked a Christmas tree that felt right. And it was so cold.

This year was different. The temperatures were in the 40s, thanks to a very mild autumn, so we let the kids run through the rows of evergreens, tiring themselves in the cool air. We played tag, and chased each other in the trees.

Then we got the tree home – a short-needle variety, very soft – and did the real work: putting up the ornaments and lights. The kids were so tired from running at the tree farm that they were ready for bed early. That was fine with us.

As we plugged in the lights, we felt official. Ready for the holidays. All that’s missing in are the cookies.


Home Sick

Sick Day

Sick day at home with the kids. The boy got pink eye two days ago, and the baby woke up with it this morning.

Lots of hand-washing these past few days.

It’s not all bad. We watched the snow fall – only the second snowy day here in Michigan so far, which is weird this late into the year. The kids are still in pajamas, the Christmas music is going, and we’re all quiet and restful.

Working from home while a baby toddles around the house is a challenge, especially with icky hands. But I wouldn’t trade days at home with the kids for anything.


Weekend In Northern Michigan

Last weekend we traveled up to Harbor Springs, Michigan—a beautiful little bayside town along the Little Traverse Bay, on Lake Michigan—to visit family for a birthday party. These little weekend vacations are a nice, quick getaway. We need a distraction from selling the house, and who can say “no” to northern Michigan?

The autumn colors were gorgeous, of course, but so was the light coming in from the big living room window. It’s one of my favorite situations to shoot in; we’re lucky enough to have a big window in our living room back home.

But for this weekend, with all the cousins playing together and quiet fall mornings spent sketching or watching the game, we soaked up all the light and seasonal spirit we could.


Printing Family Photo Books

Printing family photo books

For the last few years, every holiday season, I’ve made it a point to create a family photo album. It’s a highlight reel of the most recent year, with our vacations, our birthdays, our seasons and walks and daily routines all documented.

My family photos albums were so important to me growing up. For many years, a lot of my childhood photo albums were somewhere I couldn’t get to them. It was only in the last seven or eight years that I got ownership back, and I made it a point to scan all those childhood pictures for safe-keeping (digital is relatively fire proof, as long as you have a good stable backup).

Going through those old photo albums was satisfying. I feel like I got my childhood back. And today, while we still print individual photo prints of the family, the idea of a photo book—a collective annual history—is a tradition I want to carry on. I look forward to making our photo book each year.

Another tradition: making a photo calendar and giving it away to family members. That’s become an annual tradition too, and it’s fun to see a year full of family photos and memories up on relatives’ walls. It makes for a great Christmas gift.

This year, I want to try something new: give away photo books to family members. With my daughter turning one this week, I think a photo book of her first year might make some family members pretty happy.

These are the types of things that keep memories alive.

This year, with the photo book idea, I can keep our collective family history going – and make sure that if one collection of pictures gets lost, there’s another copy floating around somewhere.