I've written blogs on what to expect on your session and why it's important for me to shoot authentically, but I guess we really need to explore the why of documentary photography. To me, documentary photography is a deeply personal style of photography- allowing someone in your life to capture the grand moments and the not so grand moments. Sometimes it's sorrow, sometimes it's pain. Sometimes it's tears and frustration. But most of the time, it's quiet connections. It's beauty. It's smiles. It's playful. It's messy. It's loud... it's love.
On my homepage, I have a quote that says, "If a story is in you, it has to come out." by William Faulker. He's got a point there- because we all have a story to tell. It's up to us whether we want to tell it in a way that will speak to generations long after ours or not. Will it speak to your grandchildren? Will your story whisper and echo to their grandchildren? Will it give a glimpse of the life you shared together or will it be a fairly generic family portrait that could be any family in any given overgrown field? Or will your memories be forgotten? Will your story be untold?
Your family, your story. Period.
That's what this is about and that is what I am passionate about capturing.
So, why choose this? Why choose this for your yearly family portraits or your family milestones? Why would you want this over picture perfect, golden sunlit fields? Here are a few of my reasons. And just for total transparency here, I'm not saying you should never have posed, perfect, sunlit fields, and amazingly coordinated outfits for family photos- we actually had some in December of just my husband and I- but what I am saying is this- broaden your horizons and know that this is beautiful too and it's totally okay to have these and hang them on your walls. Fill your walls and your home with what makes you happy- not someone else's version of beautiful and "proper".
1.) Because Life Is Beautiful
We've touched on this above. But, it still stands as my top reason to choose a documentary style session. Life is precious. It's beautiful (even when it's not beautiful, it's still beautiful). And it can be over in a flash. Life isn't always what magazines and Pinterest make it out to be. We don't all have homes that look like Chip and JoJo designed them and we don't all have the latest home trends or the cleanest home. Some of us have crumbs on the floor and toddlers with messy faces. Some of us have unmade beds and dishes in the sink. That's okay. Sometimes there's sorrow and heartache. Sometimes we are dealt heavy blows and are left wondering where we go from here? Why is something like this beautiful? Because it's life. Because at the root of it all, there is love. We have dirty dishes because we had food to eat. We have dirty laundry because we had clothes to wear that kept us warm and beds to sleep in at night. We have children that leave trails of destruction in their paths and toddlers who smudge the walls with their little chubby hands. It's life and it's beautiful.
2.) Because Your Memories Matter
Your memories are so important. I don't know how to emphasize just how important they are. The make up who we are. I'm always reminded of the Disney/Pixar movie Inside Out- have you seen it? Pixar did a fantastic job of animating and helping us to visualize those "core memories" and how those experiences literally shape who we are as a person. If you haven't seen it, a little girl (Riley) moves across the country with her family, leaving everything she knows and loves behind. She has a hard time adjusting to her new surroundings. We see 5 of her emotions/characters Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Fear, and Anger. Throughout the movie we are shown important events and milestones in her life that have been made into core memories and how each of her emotions plays into these memories. I'm not going to spoil it for you too much if you haven't seen it, but by the end of the movie, we see that the human brain is absolutely amazing and that we can feel a wide range of things all at once. These core memories not only make up her personality, but also influence how she reacts to certain situations, people, and places.
Documenting your memories helps us tell the story of our life. It is the preservation of these memories that will continue to tell our story for the generations that follow. Our "core memories" are always going to stay with us, but the details in the beautiful mundane days can often become a fuzzy and distant memory. When my oldest was born, I wrote everything down. She had a baby book, weekly pictures, everything. When number 2 came along, of course I had pictures and I wrote a few notes here and there, but nothing like #1. But by the time #3 came along, I put portrait photography behind me and moved into this type of photography that fulfilled my soul. Preserving my own memories and recognizing that the everyday moments are exactly what I want to remember. The details. Capturing their personalities in a single image. Showing the bond and connection they have together- things that words simply fail me on.
That is why your memories matter.
They matter now, they matter in the future.
3.) Because It Makes You Feel Something
I'll tell you a little story. My grandmother had a recliner that sat by huge floor to ceiling windows that led out onto the patio. She spent a lot of time in this recliner. She used to read a lot, but as she got older and became dependent on oxygen, she enjoyed the natural light here and looking out into the backyard. I married, moved halfway across the country, and began having babies of my own. She literally counted down the days til our next visit home and (as a proper Southern grandmother would)she loved seeing those great-grandbabies and spoiling them rotten. Once they reached toddler age and began walking around, I noticed that her beautiful windows were absolutely filthy. Within a few days of us being there, smudged little handprints covered her windows. I'm sure you know exactly what I am describing here. I started to clean them and she wouldn't let me. She said that seeing their little handprints all over everything made her happy. She would just grin ear to ear every time she looked at them.
In the same manner, documentary style pictures picks up on details like this. Maybe not exactly dirty windows, but documentary photography gives you an images that evokes a feeling. One day you'll look at that little shirtless toddler with cheerios stuffed in their mouth, carrying them in their dimpled little fingers and it will make you smile and reminisce about that age. Or maybe it's a picture of your kids puddle jumping after a spring thunderstorm? Maybe it's the way a husband looks at his wife when she's busy tending to the baby? Or the way a father incites a Nerf war with the kids? Or the way a mother sits in a quiet moment and nurses the baby? It's something that takes you back to a certain day or time, it brings back a memory. Looking at the image makes you feel an emotion every time you see it. You are preserving a feeling.
4.) Because It's Authentic and Therapeutic
This is a biggie for me. You know the saying, "keeping up with the Jones'?" I'm not about that life. If you were to ask me what I want for my children in life, I would tell you 3 things. I want them to love God, I want them to be happy, and I want them to be healthy. Being authentic falls into that happiness category. I want them to just be happy with who they are and to love themselves. Documentary photography really gives us the chance to look at our lives through a different perspective- and I feel like it really celebrates our differences. It gives us the opportunity to see ourselves and the connection we have with one another. Since we aren't posing and forcing smiles, it allows us to capture authentic emotions and smiles. I'm not directing the shots and I'm not telling you what to do or where to stand. It allows me to help capture the nature of someone's true personality and I love that.
Now you may be saying to yourself, but Jess, therapeutic? Come on now. That's stretching it. And you know what? Maybe it is. But I feel the need to say this, I know motherhood is hard. It can be isolating. You love your children so much and you're probably asking yourself daily if you are screwing them up. You've probably said to yourself, "I don't know what to do!" or "What do I do?" and I think that's okay. You're doing a good job and you're doing what you feel is in their best interest. So, can I just say that when you see pictures of yourself with your kids and how they look at you or how you look at them- it just feels good? When you see the way your family loves each other (even if it's in the small quiet moments) it really does something amazing for your heart? Hang that up on your wall and look at it every day, especially when you feel like you're losing it. Remember that at the base of all of this is love and yes, you are enough. It just makes your heart full to see some of these pictures and we need that in our lives!
5.) Because It's Easy
There's no need to clean up or make things perfect. There's no need for all matching outfits or ironing (who likes to do that anyways? I suck at ironing. No shame here!) No telling everyone to smile and look at the birdie, no saying cheese, no tears. Well, if there are tears, it's not from taking pictures! It's more likely related to a sibling argument or someone took something away from someone else. You just live your everyday life. Whether that's outside playing ball, taking a walk/hike, or whether it's eating a lazy Saturday morning breakfast in your pajamas. It's whatever you want it to be. And because there's no "rules" as to what to do and where to stand and how to act, everyone's happy and the end result is a visual representation of your story and your family.
Jess is a photographer serving families located in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. She specializes in documentary and storytelling photography.