Whoever said parenting was going to be easy is full of bull.
It is unequivocally the hardest thing I have ever done as a human being.
This role of caregiver, guide, disciplinarian, confidant, cleaner upper (and the list goes on and on) only stops when I sleep. (And for some parents, “sleep is for suckers” is their reality because their children still need them through the night.)
Throw on the family photographer/documentarian hat with all the other ones and it starts to feel like a mountain on my head.
Two years ago, when I wrote the article Photographing your kids: The good, the bad, and the everyday, I honestly thought I was hitting a stride of parenting that was getting good and I was doing okay at photographing life. Ha! That was absolutely delusional.
Since then, even with great moments and fun-filled days, I still feel like it is a real struggle sometimes. In conversations with other parents, I will be the first to admit I big puffy heart LOVE my kid-free weekday work hours. Those are the times when I can truly be an adult and my thoughts are not scattered or interrupted every few minutes.
But otherwise, afternoons and evenings are the worst for me, culminating quite frequently at bedtime, a time which (almost) every parenting book will tell you – is a great time to “collect your kids and fill their buckets”. Not me! Instead, I often catch myself in the “go the (space) to bed, I’m done” persuasion.
In all of this parenting and working hustle, my well-intended new-year resolution personal photo projects start dropping like flies pretty early in the year. The 365 becomes a P52, which turns into a P12 video montage (this one didn’t even take flight!) that morphs into a #100daysofsummer, and finally fizzles out into a “pick up the camera and call it a win” project.
A few months ago, while teaching The Documentary Approach, a notion that was so fundamentally simple started to become my mantra for personal shooting – shoot when you are inspired.
You do not have to set out doing projects with deadlines (unless it is for a class or work). The weight of an expected outcome almost always feels like a chore and kills it for me. If you allow your brain some space to explore and be curious, the inspiration and ideas will come.
Anytime you observe something that causes your brain to tingle with excitement and your hand to reach out for the camera, honour it. After a while of doing this (it could be months, it could be years), you may well find that these photos show something that you did not glean from shooting single-inspired images. It may well morph into an unexpected collection of work that you can consider for further development.
For instance, over the last two years, I have been documenting the full spectrum of moments that my girls have experienced. As I explored my images, I realized that I have been picking up my camera more often when they have been experiencing the crustier side of life.
As their mother, I find it rather cathartic to photograph their strife, meltdowns, vulnerability and sadness. It helps my parent brain slow down, observe, and empathize, instead of reacting to their behaviour with my own childish retorts and impulses.
No, they do not appreciate having the lens pointed at them at first, but after many conversations about why making these photos of crustier/harder moments are important to me, they have come to understand and accept it. These are all representations of human emotions after all, and I want them to remember their life not through rose-coloured glasses, but with a pragmatic dose of “this is all normal and okay”.
Here are some examples of my parenting struggles and tips for photographing through yours.
- If you are not comfortable photographing close, you can start from afar and move in closer gradually, over time.
- You can also photograph these emotions without necessarily photographing the subjects by focusing in on the aftermath details. Torn paper, mad scribbles, scrunched up math homework pages, tears on clothing. They may not carry the most context, but these details are important too.
Perhaps in 20 or 30 years, when my girls are parents and they turn to me for advice, I can share the happy AND crustier side of life photos with them and remind them that I was once there, too, and I get it.
If you wish to continue the conversation of capturing all kinds of moments for your family, do check out my Breakout: Documenting the Unapologetic Life, available through Click Photo School.