A Life In Photos
I’m expecting to be an auntie again any day now. It’s all the usual things – exciting, nerve-wracking, stressful, emotional, and slightly fraught. She’s not one for a maternity session, but I wanted to capture this special time for her in my own way. I had the perfect opportunity last weekend, when I packed the kids into the car and we spent some time with them.
I know what it’s like to feel a million years pregnant, and the exhaustion of having a toddler to care for at the same time. I know what it’s like to think about how life will change, and that change will be felt most profoundly by the child who suddenly finds they’re not the baby anymore. It was lovely to see my nephew “giving the baby a cuddle,” and soon enough my own children were joining in.
How lovely is that? A baby not even born yet, but very much the focus of these children, in this moment. Children are so wonderful to photograph. Sometimes mine suffer from “photographer’s child syndrome” (a real thing, see → ) but when they’re lost in the moment they just let me snap away. And they love looking back at photos of themselves.
A couple of weeks ago we popped round to my mums. She always gets super nostalgic whenever a new grandchild is on the way, and she decided to get the shoebox full of proper photos out. We saw photos of my grandparents – the ones I never got to meet – and photos of relatives long gone. Photos of my parents visibly pissed, ones of them travelling with their friends, and living their lives. Photos of my sister and I growing up.
The best part? Not a selfie in sight.
1986: My mum holding baby me out to my sister to say bye before my dad took her to school.
1987: Dad, my sister and me in Whitby.
So many times I hear mums and brides bemoaning their appearance. Guests spot me and warn me not to point my camera at them before scuttling off. I get that having your moments documented can be awkward, because you’re trusting me not to take a photo that might accentuate your chins. This represents a real dilemma: wanting natural photos, but feeling unable to be natural when there’s a camera around.
I’ll say this once: these guys are MODELS. It is OK not to look like them.
There are so many factors at play here I could write an essay. Magazines, tv, rock stars, Instagram, selfie culture – even the most self-assured of us can fall foul of those damn Kardashians and the bullshit they peddle. When I look at a photo of myself I am drawn to my chins, my one squinty eye, my black heads. I have the power to delete every photo of myself I can’t stand, to de-tag on Facebook, to not post in the first place. I don’t even know where to start with the photo below, even though it’s an excellent image.
But what if our forebears had that power? To delete those donkey rides at Great Yarmouth that were the staple of my mother’s childhood? To remove the moments when my grandmother was well enough to take her three kids on holiday and looked really bloody glamorous? I’d have no idea that those things happened. I’d have no clue that she was once a beautiful, healthy woman, and not the kind but poorly soul I remember. I’d have no idea what my mum looked like as a kid, and what her favourite uncle looked like to boot. Those photos were taken on a box brownie that my mum still owns, and I know she remembers it with fondness.
I wish we could go back to those ye olde days, and not just because I love looking at vintage photos. I’m fairly convinced that getting the camera out back that was a Big Deal. Even when I was a kid in the 80s and 90s, back when we got our photos printed, a camera was a novelty. Before everyone figured out that if you hold your phone ten inches above your head it makes your chins disappear, and Instagram made us believe lifestyles that aren’t real. Yes, it might mean that when you get your photos back from Snappy Snaps there’s a finger over a lot of them, but I’m sure we were freer then.
Follow The Kids’ Example
All the assurance that you look amazing won’t help you see your own true beauty. I wish I could imbue all my clients with a sense of how amazing they really are, so that they can leave their hang ups behind. I can’t do that on my own, but I can look to the kids.
Look at the way they get lost in what they’re doing and stop feeling judged by the lens a few feet away. It’s really bloody difficult, but when you allow yourself to feel liberated the photos will be so good.
I want everyone to be able to look back on their life in pictures. To share the joy of their past with their children and relatives, and hold their memories in their hands. The way we hold each other, look at each other, the feelings we have. I don’t want people to shy away from a camera they have no control over, but embrace it. Live in front of the camera, just for a short while.
And if all else fails, I can top up your drink.