“[S]how us a face — and feel free to share the story or the person behind it.”
First, here’s a face:
That’s my son – and it’s a face I see every single day, set into hundreds of different expressions. It’s a face I’ve photographed a bazillion times by this point.
And I can honestly say that the creation of those images has informed my understanding of him in ways I don’t think I could have manifested otherwise. And I’m so grateful for that!
I can’t say that every photograph I take teaches me something new about him. Especially these days. He’s nine now – and so I tend to get a lot images like this one lately:
Not a great deal of insight to be had there!!
Or in these either:
But as I look back through photos of him from the last several months (as I just did, looking for inspiration for this challenge), it strikes me that they have, as a whole, taught me so much!
For example, he’s hugely moved by beauty and intricacy and texture and color. Not unlike his mommy! That’s a huge bond between us. He and his sister both are extremely likely to ask me to photograph cool/interesting/pretty things they find when we’re out and about – and I love that:
But what’s fascinating to me – and this has come out through the act of taking him with me when I do a photo walk, and is reflected in a lot of the resulting images – is the way in which he, as an individual, experiences nature and his environment. It’s unique to him.
Like, for example, he’s the one who comes up with ideas like this:
It’s not like these photos of mine are great art or something – but they’re so interesting to me in what they reveal about him. He’s not thinking critically about his ideas obviously (he’s nine!); he’s operating completely on instinct and creativity and imagination. But what’s happening is that that instinct, etc, is compelling him to juxtapose himself against different colors and textures and forms. And he’s not being silly, doing that. It’s a natural, purely artistic impulse on his part. It puts me in mind of the photography of Alessio Albi or Elizabeth Gadd (both of whom I love): that way they both have of juxtaposing human subjects with the natural and/or textural world.
It’s really fascinating to me to see glimmers of that same sort of sensibility in him!
He does love art – and is pretty talented. He hasn’t had the means to explore photography yet (now that I’m thinking of it, I might want to try to remedy that soon. I’d like to see what he makes of it!) He spends a lot of time doing artistic things though: building model landscapes to run his trains through, painting, blockprinting with his dad – and especially drawing. You can see Calvin & Hobbes emerging in the right-hand image. Graphic novels and comics are a HUGE influence on him right now:
He’s dyslexic – so I have even more reason to LOVE that he’s embraced art the way he has. Expressing himself visually has been so extremely liberating for him – and becoming more so, as he ages and his world expands and becomes more complex.
On a side note: A collage he did in school was chosen a few weeks ago to be a part of county-wide art show. the below image was taken outside of the high school where it was exhibited. He was SO PROUD (rightfully so!!! It was a big deal!) This is just a snapshot – but the pride and subsequent self-confidence he was feeling just shine out of it!:
Going back to the challenge: One of the things I’m most intrigued by, as a photographer, are the moments when an image I take gives me a peek into the inner person. This is especially powerful when it comes to portraiture.
Like the artist Cheri Lucas Rowlands quotes in the challenge write-up, I also learn so much about the people around me via the tool of photography. And it is such an intimate experience. I completely understand that – and feel it.
It’s especially powerful when the person I’m looking at is someone I know well – when somebody (like my son) is revealed in new ways through imagery. It’s so fascinating!!
That first black&white shot above is a good example: I snapped that when he wasn’t paying attention to me. He was distracted by the fact that he was feeling a little down; he was caught up in that. I picked up the camera in part to distract him. There wasn’t anything very dark going on; it was just that his little sister had irritated him. So I wasn’t ignoring his feelings – but I also wasn’t taking him very seriously.
But when I looked at him through the lens of my camera, when I looked at him with that more mindful, photographer’s eye, I remembered something hugely important: and that’s that kids have emotions and personal dramas and vulnerabilities that are every bit as powerful in their worlds as “bigger deals” are in a grownup’s world. And I was chastened.
And it’s good sometimes for that to happen.
I want, as a mom, to help him (and his sister) through those sorts of “down” moments…to help them find perspective. I want them to get better than they are now (at 9 and 7) at letting little things roll off of them. (Neither of them is very good at that as yet! Everything is a big deal!)
But I also absolutely want to validate their feelings. I don’t want to fall into the trap (which I kind of was that day) of blowing off (even just inside of myself) how they feel – not ever. I want them to know that their hurts – including hurt feelings – mean something to me. That they matter.
And certainly not because I simply wasn’t paying enough attention.
Photography is the most amazing tool for mindfulness practice I’ve ever come across. It helps me to move through the world in the way I want to move. It helps me – by compelling me to slow down and really look, really listen – to be a better person.
When I think about myself in the role of “mom,” I’m particularly grateful for that!!