This week, my friend Graeme sent me a link to a piece in the Huffington Post that a Canadian friend of his had shared on Facebook. As a photographer, he wanted to know what I thought of it.
In the article, Allison Tate, a freelance writer and mum of four kids in the US, documented her reaction to being asked by her five year old son to step in front of the camera with him in a pop-up photobooth at a family party. Her initial reaction was one of horror (I look a mess, I’m fatter than I want to be, I’m not ‘perfectly’ dressed, I can’t face seeing photos of me’) but to her credit, she went ahead and did it anyway for the sake of her young son and to give him exactly what he wanted, which was a photograph of him with his mum, who in his eyes, is perfect in every way.
She included the photographs taken at the party at the bottom of the article and yes, they’re exactly what they were intended to be - candid, fun shots of a mum, her son and baby daughter larking about and having fun in front of the camera. They’re not stylised or edited but they are packed with personality and scream 'loving family’.
So why was she so reluctant to do it?
Well, firstly I have to say, the article really chimed with me, and it seems with a lot of other people out there as since it was published, loads of previously camera-shy mums have been uploading photographs of themselves with their kids in a bid to banish all those negative self-perception thoughts that were holding them back and reclaim their right to be photographed even though they’re not the image of perfection.
But no-one’s taken that right from them have they? We veto ourselves don’t we? I have lost count of the number of times I have stepped out of a photo with my kids because I felt I looked awful. I have hundreds of photographs of my boys together, separately, with their Dad, with my Mum and Dad, with countless other folk, yet I only have a handful of carefully edited photographs of them with me, their mum because quite simply, I don’t like the way I look in photographs.
I often joke with clients who are a bit nervous or 'stiff’ when they first arrive at a photoshoot that the reason I’m became a photographer in the first place was so that I could be behind, not in front of the lens. That’s not the reason of course, but it sure is a good side-effect at times.
It’s crazy isn’t it? If you looked through the photographs on my hard drive, or on my iPhone, you’ll see a busy family life but an absence of a mum in the picture. It isn’t because I’m not there, it’s because, in documenting our experiences, I’m consciously or unconsciously, making myself invisible.
So no more. I want my boys to have dozens of photographs of their mum as I am. I might not be a supermodel or as young as I once was. I might only have one 'good side’ and need to take ten shots before I get one I’m happy with, but I’m sure as dammit going to step into the photograph with my boys more often from now on, because let’s be honest, they don’t care what I look like, they just care that I am there, as 'real’ as I am, and sharing in the fun. And when they’re older and these days are just fond memories, at least they’ll have photographs of us as we were, a happy little family trying to muddle our way through life, together.
Admittedly, I’ll still probably wince every time I see myself, but that’s not the point is it?!