Posts Tagged ‘life’

My Photographic Eye

Wednesday, April 19th, 2017

I read an incredibly interesting article the other day that analyzed the photos Melania Trump has posted publicly on her Twitter account.

(No this isn’t a political post. Yes, the article was pretty critical of Melania. Yes, I agreed with it. No, I don’t want to have a political discussion here.)

If you look beyond the actual subject of that post, the idea of learning how someone sees the world from how they capture it is fascinating. Even if you don’t think of yourself as a photographer, any time you stop long enough to take a picture you’re saying “This is how I see things, this is a moment I want to be preserved, this is my reality as I want it to be presented.” In this era of social media, photos are even more performative – you can crop or filter so your friends (or strangers) can see what you want them to see. You are making a lot of choices, whether they are conscious or not, and looking at those choices can be eye-opening.

Because I’ve been doing a 365 photo-a-day project for three years now, I have hundreds of everyday life photos to look at and analyze for patterns. Once I started thinking about my pictures (many of them not more than snapshots) as a body of work versus just individual photos, it became super clear that my photographic eye says a lot about what I value, what I want the world to see, and what I want to remember.

The most obvious fact about my photos is they are almost all of my children. I almost never photograph myself. I could make a list of my excuses for that, or I could look at it more analytically. My appearance in the photographic record isn’t a priority for me. I don’t want to remember what I looked like during these years. My body doesn’t need to take up space in the frame. It’s incredibly important to me that I witness my children’s lives, but not necessarily as a participant in their activities. This feels both sort of uncomfortable for me (I don’t want to be distant or emotionally separate) and accurate (I’m much more free-range than helicopter mom).  Also, from a practical standpoint, my live as a stay-at-home-mom revolves around my children, so obviously my work shows that.

The next pattern I saw right away is my love of capturing a small body in a big frame. I’ve chosen my equipment (mostly a 35mm lens) so I can focus on my subject while also including a lot of their environment.

When I think about how I framed these photos, I intentionally avoided other people in the frame (unless they were also my children) to make my subject stand out. I didn’t try to blur or compress the environment to the point where you couldn’t identify it – WHERE is an important part of the story. I took photos like these in every season, at home and away, with my subject aware of me and not. Children are small and the world is big. I want my kids to be confident and bold when faced with big things, unafraid of the world, so they remain the focus even though the environment could overpower them.

Another fairly obvious trend in my pictures is that I center my subjects.

 

There they are, right in the middle of the frame. The main focus. There is balance in this composition, and something very calming about a photo that tells you exactly what it’s about. It’s easy. When I think about these photos, I often took them during challenging times, when I didn’t have the energy to devote to seeing something artistic or unusual. Simplicity is something I often value.

Something I was actually surprised to see was my love of taking a photo from behind my subject. I think of my work as being full of faces, so I wasn’t expecting so many of these.

 

These photos are about seeing what my children see, looking at the world from their point of view. I often crouch down, sit on the floor, get low so I can capture their perspective. I want to learn about what catches their eye, what THEY view as important or noteworthy. I’m following along as they direct the show, ready to be supportive but not interferring. Without the emotion of their face, you have to infer feeling from their body language. When you’re raising kids, this feels true in everyday life as well; they often don’t – or can’t – tell you what they’re feeling, so you’re left to interpret what they need.

Something there is slightly less of but still often featured is taking photos of small pieces of my small people.

Fingers, toes, hair, eyes, hands. I love them. They are soft and unlined, a perfect example of how children are unbothered by the realities of life or age. The same way an elderly person’s hand speak to their lived experience, a child’s hands show innocence. Their eyes are clear and open, unguarded. They also are little pieces of where they come from – Caroline’s red hair comes from her father, Linc’s blue eyes are from me. These photos are more personal than any of the others. I do have to be physically close my children to take them, even if the small bodies are in motion and I have to be quick. They capture something so very fleeting – the split second before those feet grow bigger, run faster, carry the children away.

And finally, my neverending love of taking pictures of my kids while they sleep.

The sleeping photos fall into almost all of the previous categories – sometimes up close, sometimes lots of environment, etc – but I took them because of the sleeping so it deserved its own analysis. Children are loud and busy, capturing them at their most quiet and still is a treasure. While they are vulnerable, I watch over them. They feel safe in their home and with their family, which is why they so often fall asleep in places other than their own beds. Our home is comfortable, even if it’s not always magazine-worthy, with plenty of places to take a nap when you need it.

I really loved this exercise for myself, even if putting my emotions and inner thoughts into words was difficult. I appreciate my photographs more and I’m thrilled this record will exist (as a reminder, print your photos! I have both 2015 and 2016 books as hard copies of many of these, the rest are from 2017 and will go in a book in January).

Are there any trends you can recognize in your own photographic record? Go look at your Instagram feed or Facebook photos and see if there are patterns or constants that emerge. Or you can take some of this analysis and use it to inspire your own pictures. I’m definitely going to make an effort to take at least one self-portrait this spring.

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Life

Thursday, March 23rd, 2017

There isn’t much going on here right now, besides just life. Busy, messy, noisy, imperfect life.

There are no more babies coming, no super exciting new announcements or changes.

Babies are getting older. Kids are learning new things.

Most surfaces are sticky at least 73% of the time.

There is nothing picture perfect about mismatched socks and eating lunch on the floor.

These weirdos are in some sort of contest to see who drives me to break open a bottle of wine before 5 pm.

But they’re my weirdos.

And every day I’m reminded that someday they’ll be real people who are supposed to go out into the world and have their own lives.

(Seriously, buddy, I won’t be wiping your butt forever.)

And I just hope that until then I can remember that this too shall pass. The bad stuff and the good stuff. So things like Caroline’s 400 scraps of paper everywhere…

…and the crayon scribbles on every surface…

…and tiny fingers stuck into the sour cream while I’m making dinner are all going to be over way, way too soon.

I started this blog as mostly just words and more words and more words. I thought that was the best the way to document how I felt about my new life as a mother. But these days there aren’t any words. Or maybe there are too many words and I just don’t have time to find the right ones. There are SO MANY words in my daily life that I need something bigger to show, not tell, future me about these days I am sure I won’t remember. I’m so thankful I found photography.

 

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35 Things My 2-Year-Old Has Done Recently

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017

This is just the past week.

  1. Taken off all his clothes and his diaper and peed on his brother’s bed.
  2. Taken off all his clothes and his diaper and pooped in the play tent.
  3. Taken off all his clothes and his diaper and rolled around on his sister’s bed naked for an indeterminate amount of time before I found him and he denied peeing anywhere but I am suspicious.
  4. Pooped in the bathtub.
  5. Intentionally poured his sippy cup of milk all over the iPad.
  6. Drew on himself with blue marker.
  7. Drew on himself with pink marker.
  8. Drew on the dining room walls with pink marker.
  9. Drew on the bedroom walls with pencil.
  10. Dumped a bag of chips on the dining room floor.
  11. Dropped a towel in the sink and then left the water running.
  12. Rubbed lotion all over the bathroom.
  13. Blew bubbles in his chocolate milk until it spilled everywhere.
  14. Jammed orange peels into part of Finnegan’s exersaucer I can’t get them out of.
  15. Refused to stay in his bed at night.
  16. Refused to stay in his sister’s bed at night.
  17. Refused to stay in his brother’s bed at night.
  18. Refused to let anyone in the house sleep because he felt like screaming.
  19. Demanded I get him more cereal to eat even though he was currently eating cereal.
  20. Cried because I wouldn’t let him watch two tablets at once.
  21. Run away at Target.
  22. Run away at the grocery store.
  23. Run away at Home Depot.
  24. Pulled his sister’s hair until she cried.
  25. Punched his older brother in the face.
  26. Climbed up the dresser and stood in the drawers until they broke.
  27. Dumped half a canister of salt on the kitchen floor.
  28. Licked the wall mirror.
  29. Licked the television set.
  30. Licked the baby.
  31. Licked a box of cereal at the store.
  32. Picked up the cat and carried her around like she was a sack of potatoes.
  33. Pull the play tool bench out of the closet and thrown all the pieces all around the room seven different times.
  34. Opened several packs of kid card games, ripped up the boxes and spread the cards all over the house.
  35. Banged on my laptop until he deleted what I was working on, messed up my desktop, sent random emails and changed all my settings.

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Expectations vs Life As We Know It

Tuesday, December 27th, 2016

Ever since Caroline was born, I have dreamed of the day I get to give her an American Girl doll. If you were a little girl at any point in the 90’s, you probably understand (My husband completely does not understand. “Don’t be disappointed if she doesn’t love these dolls as much as you do,” he said to me. HAHA AS IF.) In those days, they were made by The Pleasant Company and were completely unlike any other toy I had ever seen. They were beautiful. They had the most amazing clothes. They all had tiny tea sets or picnic baskets or ice cream parlors. And everything cost one million dollars. Or at least it felt like it did.

When I was 7 or 8 my parents and grandparents teamed up to make my sister and I American Girl dolls. They bought blonde 18-inch baby dolls, purchased a few tiny accessories that couldn’t be easily replicated, and then hand-made everything else we needed for our own Kirstens. They did the braids. They made beds with tiny mattresses and quilts. And my grandmother sewed me a child-sized version of Kirsten’s pink checked dress because there was nothing in the world I wanted more than to be a Swedish pioneer girl, even if that meant my best friend might die of cholera. I still remember finding our boxes with the dolls under our Christmas tree.

Eventually, I got a “real” Samantha doll and several of her outfits. I treasured her until the day I accidentally pulled her leg off trying to get her into a pair of tights, then I gently put her away and thought “some day I’ll send her to the doll hospital”. I still have all of it, both the Kirsten and the Samantha and the clothes and accessories and the bed and the box. It’s been in Caroline’s closet for years. So I decided THIS year, when she turned 6, would be the year of the American Girl. I would stop hiding the catalogs when they came (because of course I get the catalog) and we would look through and talk about how pretty everything was. I would buy her a doll, then ask for my family to sponsor a gift card so we could go to the store and do some dream shopping. We could get tea and ice cream in the American Girl Cafe where your doll gets a special seat and her own cup and everything would be so pink and so sparkly and she would look back on this birthday as the best birthday of her childhood.

But I had a baby 3 months ago, who I can’t really leave for long enough to do a girl’s trip to Boston. So I needed to bring my baby with me. But I didn’t want a crying baby to disrupt our trip so I talked E into bringing everyone so he could watch the boys while Caroline and I did our special birthday stuff and then Finn would be close enough to nurse if he needed. In my head, it was a great plan.

In reality, it was a terrible plan because there was no plan. We left late. No one ate anything. We ended up with all of us standing in the middle of the American Girl store while Linc threw a tantrum, the hungry baby cried, Evan leaned against things because he was bored and I wondered how I could have even thought this was a good idea. Caroline picked out a couple things and we left. No tea, no magical mother-daughter time, no wandering around for an hour looking at every tiny detail for the dolls.

By the time we got home, I felt like I had genuinely ruined Caroline’s birthday. She would never look back on the day she got her first American Girl doll and think about how magical it was.

But the truth is 6-year-olds don’t internalize everything the way adults do. Caroline was so excited to play with her doll and to dress her up in all her new clothes she barely noticed how grumpy I was. So I pulled myself together and asked her if she wanted to run some errands with me, one-on-one. “Yes! A girl date! I love girl dates!” she said. We went to Target for diapers and toothpaste. We wandered around for an hour with our Starbucks (hot cocoa and a cake pop for her, the hugest peppermint mocha frapp ever for me), looking at Christmas decorations, checking out the stuff in the dollar spot, and picking up small presents she could give her brothers for Christmas. She brought her American Girl doll and they rode in the cart together, singing a made up song and telling every person who smiled at her that it was her birthday.

I have always struggled with keeping my expectations in the realm of reality and adjusting when things didn’t work out exactly as I had imagined. Going with the flow is not my specialty. Enjoying the moment if the moment isn’t the moment I had planned.

I’m working on it.

 

 

 

 

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Then Someone Hands You A Baby

Friday, November 18th, 2016

A lot of people told me that once you have three kids, adding any more is basically no big deal. You’re already outnumbered and have been practicing zone defense for a while. You probably already drive a minivan. You’re used to multi-tasking while being perpetually tired. The bigger ones can help with the smaller ones.

Although all of those circumstances are true for me, going from 3 to 4 has not been easy. At all. I’m getting my ass kicked a little bit. There’s a Jim Gaffigan bit where he talks about having five kids: “Imagine you’re drowning. Then someone hands you a baby.” I feel like four kids might be the point where I’m still treading water but seriously wondering why the shore is so, so far away.

When I went from one to two, Evan was still a toddler with no commitments. If everyone was tired and wanted to sleep in, we all slept in. When he napped, she napped, and then I could nap. He ate basically nothing but goldfish crackers and cups of milk. We owned 243% fewer toys that could be spread out over the entire house. It was still hard, because taking care of kids is hard, but it wasn’t daunting. By the time I went from two to three, both Evan and Caroline were in school, so although I had to get them up and out the door every day once that was done I just had one newborn to keep alive which I could do entirely from the couch. Linc and I could handle errands or chores or work thanks to babywearing and an infant who started sleeping 8+ hours a night around 6 weeks.

Now I have both big kids who have to be dressed and fed and packed and put on the bus; a toddler who wakes up too early, is trying to give up his nap, needs to be fed a constant stream of pb&j sandwiches; and then I also have a helpless baby who isn’t much of a fan of sleeping.

Being a stay at home mom has always been a weird mix of always having way too much to do and long, boring periods of nothing. There is always something or someone who needs to be cleaned, so my work is never really done. There is so much laundry it feels almost comical – how can we own so many things that constantly need to be washed?! It’s so much mindless work. I can’t trust Linc alone with Finn for very long, so I’m not taking as many showers as I probably should be. (I don’t think he’d hurt him on purpose, but sometimes he gets the urge to just SQUEEZE HIS HEAD BECAUSE HE’S SOOOOO CUTE and doesn’t know that’s not a good idea.) I am currently serving as a 24 hour buffet for the baby, so having to feed everyone else too seems ridiculous. Can’t they all just feed themselves with food that magically appears in our kitchen? I used to love cooking, now it’s tedious. The level of being touched-out has reached new heights – Finn is a very cuddly baby, especially at 2 am, but Linc is also a very cuddly toddler. There are So. Many. Diapers.

I know in my head that this is all super temporary. We missed a lot of our favorite October stuff this year because I was too tired to wrangle everyone out of the house, but there will be 18 more Octobers where I have at least one child at home to do fun fall things with me. Right now I need to choose the less stressful option, maybe let myself be more lazy than I’m usually comfortable with, perhaps do just a little less for the holidays so I don’t end up freaking out completely. I’m hoping my friends and family can grant me some grace for not being as thoughtful and timely with their gifts and thank you notes and baked goods and holiday cards.

One day, in a future I can’t quite imagine yet, having four children will be totally normal for me. It won’t take me 30 minutes to get everyone settled just so I can go do laundry for 5 minutes. I won’t constantly run out of food because I forget how much 6 people eat. I will sleep more than 3 hours in a row and it might even be in my bed instead of on the couch. There’s even a chance I will go to Target and won’t lose ANY of my kids. For now, I will keep my head above water however I can and not pretend I’m doing it very well.

I can, however, occasionally force them into photos.

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