I passed a house the other day.
It's windows were boarded.
Its wood was all gray.
Yet I could not forget it,
As I went on my way.
A long droopy porch,
With windows above,
I bet this old house,
Was once filled with love.
Its broad rock chimney
Sat at one end.
For warmth of the family,
And many a friend.
Its beauty I konw,
Had been one of glory.
I wish this old house,
Could tell me its story.
Then my mind went back,
To another time,
The family was mine.
No appliance or TV,
Only old lamp light,
Where Dad read the Bible,
And prayed every night.
A home filled with laughter,
A sister, a brother,
A strong, Godly father,
A gentle, kind mother.
Though they worked so hard,
Day after day,
They were never too tired,
Or too busy to play.
We walked in the woods,
We played in the brooks,
And learned things of nature,
You don't find in a book.
We gathered wild flowers,
While Dad made us whistles,
Picked berries for mom,
Through briers and thistles.
When we reached home,
The berries were dripping,
The flowers were wilted,
And we were not skipping.
And as the old house,
Came vaguely in sight,
We would all run,
And shout with delight.
The chimney, the porch,
The sunsets great light,
I wish I could go back,
If just for a night.
But time moves us on,
The family has scattered,
The house is no more,
It's the memories that matter.
That old House I saw,
Was such a sweet reminder,
But only of beauty,
In the mind of the finder.
- "The House" by Lillian Robinson Gordy
There is a place that only exists in my memory. Much like the words of the poem above (written by my precious grandmother), I catch myself being bitter sweetly reminded of it now and then. I remember the smell. I can't describe it, but I can remember it strongly. I remember the colors and decor. I remember the old piano- and somehow she never told us to stop playing with it...she encouraged us to figure out our talents.
I remember being sent out to the garden ( I need to stress that this wasn't a small raised bed garden- this was a large scale operation!!) with buckets to harvest all the veggies. My favorite was picking the strawberries! I remember once my cousin Abby and I had been sent out to pick tomatoes and we stole the salt shaker to nibble on tomatoes while we picked them! We were probably around 7-8 years old. I loved visiting because there were always cousins to play with. Always cousins.
I was having a late night talk with my mom and aunt a few weeks ago. I was telling them that if I could go back in time, I would go back to the Old House with my camera in hand. I know exactly what I would shoot and exactly how I would shoot it. I would take pictures of that old. worn piano. I can hear my Mawmaw now, playing and learning hymns by ear, her sweet voice humming the melody. I would take pictures of my Mawmaw at the stove...there seemed to always be something simmering. I would stand on the far right hand side of the kitchen and take a picture of the farmhouse kitchen table, hopefully with my family around it. I would photograph my PawPaw in the garden with his bucket harvesting the vegetables he grew from seed. I can picture his collared shirt (always tucked in), finished off with a belt and a hat. I would photograph the old table on the back porch, us kids used to sit at for meals. If this was a perfect dream-come-reality and I could choose the day to go back, I'd go back on a Sunday. Maybe even Easter Sunday. After church, after my PawPaw preached. Cars would be parked up and down the street as we all gathered for supper and an egg hunt. All 7 sets of aunts and uncles (8 if you include my mom and dad), all of their kids. Like I said, always cousins. I'd be sure to photograph the front porch and the view of the garden down the hill from the house.
The only 2 bedrooms in the house were joined at the closet by a "secret door" in the back of the closet. That door held the ultimate mystery to me and I could only imagine what was in there! (Spoiler alert, I found out as a pre-teen, and it was just clothes- but as a child, it was surely the entrance to Narnia) I'd photograph it, with the door closed to represent all the mystery it held for me as a child.
But as fate and time would have it, I'm 33 now and all I have left are my memories and a few snapshots shared on social media. If I would've known then what I know now, right? If I could only go back and photograph it the way I remember it, so my kids would know. So I could share part of their legacy in that way...
But I know now and I can do it now.
In my own home right here in Chesapeake. In your home.
Sometimes clients tell me that they don't have a great home. It's a rental. It's not "theirs". It's small. It's cramped. It's not their forever home.
Friends, if we waited for perfection in our lives, it would never happen. I need you to hear this: home is where you spend your time. It's a state of mind. It doesn't need to be perfect- nothing in life is. Your life is happening RIGHT HERE and RIGHT NOW.
The house that I'm gushing about? Two bedrooms. One, very small bathroom. Did you read how many aunts and uncles and cousins I have? On the outside, it's nothing special. It's the memories I made in it that make it wonderful. It's the people that lived there. It's the spirit of the home I want to photograph.
In 15-20 years, I don't want you wishing you had pictures of this season of your life. I want you to have them. I want you to be able to pull them out and look at them and feel comforted, to feel connection, to feel something in your heart.
If you're local to Hampton Roads and you're ready to schedule your session with me, click here or on the contact tab above. I'm happy to sit and talk with you and plan your storytelling session.
Recently, I had the pleasure of photographing the Hartness family. But in order to tell you about their session, we need to go back to the beginning...way back to our time in East Tennessee.
This family was one of my very first clients. So new in fact, I would call Meggie to bring herself and her little girl over when I needed to practice some new skills. She even helped me out taking pictures of my middle guy when he was just a little baby!
We became fast friends and kept in touch throughout the years and through 2 PCS's ( for you non-military affiliated folks, that means that our family moved due to military orders).
Fast forward to a few weeks ago...
Her husband contacted me and said he was putting together a little surprise for Meggie and wanted me in on it. He said that he wanted to surprise her with a quick family vacation and as a double surprise- have me photograph it! Of course I was on board. How could I not be? Do you know how hard it was for me not to send Meggie a message and just SCREAM at her that I would see her again soon? And that we would get to meet each other's 3rd babies that we had only seen via social media? And that our big kids that were toddler playmates would get to reunite?
It was hard. You get the point. It was like word vomit. I needed to tell her and talk to her about it. But I kept quiet and patiently waited until about a week before their session and finally her husband caved and told her the whole plan. After all, they were about to drive approximately 530 miles with their 3 kids.
And so he told her (he received much fanfare for being the best ever and giving their family an awesome gift! **hint, hint husbands of the world-- here's a surefire way to make her swoon!**) and they began their journey to Norfolk, Virginia where we met early in the morning for delicious coffee and hot cocoa. I followed them around for the morning and captured fun memories of them exploring a new city. We ended our day with a visit to our favorite park to explore our favorite marsh and play at our favorite playground.
I think the session served a few purposes:
1. It was a fantastic excuse to see each other, hug her neck, and catch up with an old friend.
2. It gave them updated family portraits.
3. It allowed them a spur of the moment getaway where they were able to spend quality time together as a family.
4. Beyond updated family portraits, it gave them the opportunity to have a physical representation of their love and connection with each other. The images serve as a reminder to them, each and every day, of how much they love each other.
5. They now have the best souvenir ever of their time in Norfolk.
Over in Norfolk, there's a cute, picturesque, little craftsman style house that's 100 years old that has charm in every corner and is filled with love- and a sweet little family lives inside it's walls. The home is filled with books and toys, homemade suncatchers adorn their windows. The neighbors drive by calling out to each other and waving.
I was lucky enough to be invited by this family into their home for a few hours on a Sunday afternoon. I knew the second I read her initial email that we would probably be a good fit. They wanted an in home session to celebrate home ownership and to document these sweet family afternoons together. They look forward to Sunday afternoon all week and the slow pace of life it brings. They relish in the opportunity to just hang out together and to simply be with each other.
The second I walked in, I felt a mutual trust and immediately began shooting. I was able to capture honest moments that were organic and authentic to their day. I was able to document little details of their 18 month old daughter. Her love for books, her keen observation skills, the way she always sticks her tongue out, the family's love of music- plus we had a fun and challenging game of hide and seek. We never thought we would find her...she's good at this!
In my client questionnaire I send out (or sometimes we do it over the phone/Facetime)- I ask whoever initiated the session- what is it that they love about their significant other. Her answer absolutely warmed my heart. She said her favorite thing about her husband was that he always puts others first, he is kind, and compassionate and loves them so completely. I hope that I captured his kindness and love for them so that when they look at their portraits, that is exactly what they see and that they FEEL the love. Their dynamic together as a family was incredible to be around.
I've listed some reasons why I think in-home sessions are the absolute best (you can read about them here), but honestly, this session perfectly fits all the reasons I love in home sessions. The comfort of being in your own home cannot be replicated just anywhere. This is your home. This is your family. This is unconditional love. This is trust. This is the place where all the important memories are made. There's no place like home.
If you would like to talk about scheduling your next family portraits with me (and possibly in the comfort of your own home), click here or on the contact tab to send me a quick message. You can also find me over on Facebook or Instagram. Don't put off documenting and preserving the things you love- life happens and we can get bogged down- but this is one thing you won't regret.
Jess is a photographer serving families located in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. She specializes in documentary and storytelling photography.