Why Documentary Family Photography Is Important

It wasn’t until I became a mother that I understood the importance of family photography.

For years I’d been seeing images posted all over social media of families and children celebrating milestones, enjoying holidays, grinning during perfect vacations, cuddling in golden light wearing fancy clothes.

These photos are important. They capture important family moments, and provide condensed family histories of big deal events like first birthdays and recitals and graduations.

These are the images we use to populate our social media. We want our “friends” to share in these experiences with us, to see our successful lives, our beautiful families, our experiences of the American dream.

But that’s not all there is. When I became a parent I realized that having children isn’t what our Facebook feeds would like us to believe. It’s full of ups and downs. It’s all over the place. It’s challenging. And it changes far too quickly.

I had my camera with me all the time when my son was a baby. I documented EVERYTHING. How he loved watching his crib mobile. How he loathed tummy time. How he smiled from ear to ear when he ate his first solids. How he sometimes screamed in the bath. How learning to crawl was super frustrating. How his curiosity blossomed. How he laughed when we rolled a ball back and forth. How he navigated his little world, from exploring under tables to trying to escape through baby gates. Every little thing.

When I was taking them, I wasn’t thinking about how I’d feel when I looked at them in the future. I can’t look at them now without crying. Neither can my husband. It goes by SO FAST. You don’t realize how important it all is when you’re in it. And it’s ALL important. Stacking blocks is just as important as first birthday cake. Exploring the backyard is just as important as family vacation at the beach.

Photos of what is real and in between those big moments are important.

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They are just as important (if not more important, in my opinion!) as what’s set up and posed, what’s carefully selected to display, and what fits into the misleading family narrative we want others to see.

I love looking back on old family photos of my siblings and I on vacation. But you know what I love even more? Caught images of my parents when they were young. Images where we’re being ourselves in the absence of someone saying “Look at me!” Images of us just being US. And even better, all of us being US together. Those are the images that tell the true story of my family. Those images aren’t staged. Nobody set them up. The photographer didn’t influence them. They are true and raw and perfect in their imperfection.

Documentary photography revels in the imperfection that feels absolutely perfect when you look back on it. This is why I started offering documentary family photography to my clients. I want them to be transported back to a time that passed too quickly. I want their children to be gifted visual records of their families. I want them to look back on those perfect times that may not have felt big at the time, but are huge with hindsight. I want them to see their families as they truly were.
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Documentary photography is honest.

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It’s real.

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It’s a rebellion against our instinct to curate our Facebook feeds with images chosen to showcase our perfect lives.

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It’s about photos you never show to anyone other than your children.

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It’s about photos that highlight the messiness and wonder of parenthood.

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It’s getting parents into the photos.

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It’s generating a collection of images that will show children how their lives really were.

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It’s about the amazing phases that children outgrow too quickly.

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It’s about how we’re the center of their lives when they are little. It’s about how they’re always the center of ours.

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It’s about the magic of being a kid.

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It’s about connection.

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It’s about being present.

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It’s about appreciating the little things.

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It’s about emotion.

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It’s about family history.

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It’s about being truthful in a world where there is too much insincerity.

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It’s about the beauty of the in-between moments of being a parent, being a kid, and being a family.

160531_Keppeler_037170319_Holden-Buckley_139 160606_Clyde_070 160602_Galvao_0091 160620_Etscovitz_053160623_Dickson_038-2160527_Samborski_076 160606_Clyde_003160527_Samborski_030 160531_Keppeler_006-2 160613_Yates_065 160416_Bavuso_0072160314_Bonner_0166 160326_Galvao_0105-2160305_Benander-Panza_016_BWIf you are interested in documentary family photography, please reach out so I can tell you more about it. I’d love to tell your family’s story with photos!