Why choose documentary family photography?

Why hire a photographer to document family life? Don’t we all have countless images of our kids sitting on our phones already?

I’m going to take a few posts to answer that question. But first, I want to tell you a story about my second favorite photograph I have ever taken of my son. (More on the first another time).

For families grappling with the value of a documentary approach, I think this story might help.

M has a stuffed cat named Fudgy whose full name is actually “Fudgy the Lice Cat” since he joined our family during a most unfortunate episode. All of M’s stuffed friends had been banished to trash bag quarantine, leaving a kindergartner facing bed time very sad and sending a tired, grossed-out mom to the nearest open toy store with very slim pickings.

Fudgy has been the most loved stuffy ever since, the closest of them all to Velveteen status, the one that will ride his love into the afterlife. And every night at bed time we have a routine. My husband says what his parents said to him before bed, which is “sweet beans”: an adaption of toddler Sam’s mispronunciation of “sweet dreams.” Then I say “dream of angels”, which my parents said to me.

In return M will say, every night to this very tween-hood day of my writing, “Sweet beans, good night, and all those other things we say at night!!!” There’s a sing-song lilt to his voice and the words nicely cover the gamut of angels, sleeping tight and bed bugs that don’t bite.

Then my husband throws the cat at his face. Not always gently.

I can’t explain why he does this, I just know that random-acts-of-Sam are among the many things I fell in love with 20+ years ago. And the boy loves it. He won’t easily fall asleep without someone throwing Fudgy at his face.

No other parent in the world will have this particular portrait. I’ve never posted it to Facebook, it’s ours, it’s his, and I am so glad I thought to take it one night. I would like to believe that, someday, he will one day ask his college roommate or domestic partner to throw Fudgy before he falls asleep in our absence. But the more likely scenario is that one night, any given night from now, he will say

“Stop, that’s not funny anymore.”

Just like he stopped fitting into the sling. Just like he stopped wearing super hero costumes. Just like he stopped wanting me to walk him to school.

I use documentary photos to hold the things I know I can’t stop. He is my baby, my only and he has to grow up. Photos like this make it just a little easier for me to let him.

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