There are routines that happened during my childhood that must have repeated themselves a hundred times. At night, my mother would read to me religiously, but she was the one taking pictures so she’s not in a lot of photos. After school, the bus dropped me off at my grandparent’s house and I would sit at the kitchen table, eating cottage cheese and diced canned peaches. My grandfather would quietly read the paper and chew on tobacco. There’s no record of that either. I wish we had more photos inside their well-lived farmhouse.
Every year growing up, we took posed, smiling photos of myself and my brothers. But when I look at them now, there aren’t any emotions that rush to the surface. I’m not transported back to that moment. (In fact, I barely remember posing for them.) They were tradition and I’m glad they exist, however, those pictures in no way reflect who we were back then. They’re far from an accurate depiction of what my childhood felt like.
They don’t show the adventures in the backyard, the handsprings on the couch or my complete obsession with our pets. Most of all, they don’t show my parents interacting with us in any significant manner.
That stuff existed every day, but there aren’t pictures representing those unique family dynamics.
There are many reasons why I started this “perfectly unposed” movement and why my passion runs so deep. Total honesty here: it birthed by mistake. I started to question the posed stuff during my own traditional sessions. I would see kids having absolute meltdowns when it was time to get pictures taken. Time and time again. They were consoled, encouraged and even bribed, but, kids were not having a good time during the session. Honestly, neither were the parents.
I was photographing an anxious family going through the motions of being a happy family. On a fundamental human level, it made me sad that I was a part of it.
My skepticism for perfectly posed photos grew as elaborate as the props that started appearing. Families would hold cute signage that say “Joy” and “Blessed,” rather than taking photos that truly conveyed those emotions. I noticed moms’ taking tags off of just-purchased clothes, choosing new outfits over the comfortable ones the child was used to and adored. Add in the fake backdrops and all things Pinterest…it has become a totally choreographed affair.
I kept on asking myself…”Why are we doing this?” The shoots in no way represented real connection or relationships.
Year after year, that question was like a drumbeat in my head, amplifying. The “perfectly unposed” movement, to me, became an outright rejection of cultural norms. Are we doing this subconsciously, out of tradition? Or, are we putting forth a stylized version of ourselves so we appear wealthier, happier and more put together? Why would we put crying kids in matching outfits to take photos that in no way represent their authentic family life? Has female socialization (usually women organize the shoots), fueled by social media, forced us into this competition to gain Facebook “likes” and Instagram “hearts?”
I’ll just come right out and say it: I am highly suspect of identities that we create in photographs to display to the world. I switched to fully documentary for fear that I was fueling this pervasive game.
Now, I have zero judgement on families who loved posed portraits. But, I wonder if families don’t realize…there is a more relaxed option. I think you can get one “camera aware” picture and then just have fun.
If you think I’m totally wrong, I’m sure you’re right. I’m figuring out life as best I can and I’ll be the first to admit I have no idea what I’m doing. I think being honest about being human brings us together.
In the meantime, I want to photograph your worn yoga pants with a screaming kid attached to your hip. I want to document a house well-lived in, with broken toys and laundry piled up in most rooms. Families and kids are weird, quirky, funny, exhausting and unique…why would we force them into contrived poses and photos that look like everyone else’s?
I may be in the minority here, but there is nothing more beautiful than emotionally rich images.
To me, meaningful will never go out of style.