Lots of people posting this article over the last couple days. It’s pretty good. It’s about being in photographs, and why it’s important (even though I, myself, and not in any of the following images).
I think that many people think that the purpose of being in a photograph is to look good…no, to look your best. I am often asked not to take a picture because of the clothes someone is wearing, or because they haven’t done their hair. Unfortunately, I often feel that these are the best times to take photographs.
Steve McCurry, one of the great photojournalists of our times, talks about the power of capturing the “unguarded moment“: that moment when you forget that you are being photographed, you forget that the camera is there, you forget that something is being recorded, and will later tell a story about you. Once that guard falls, the guard of wanting to present our best selves to the camera, our real self comes out, and that is when a portrait strikes a cord. That is when people say, “That is a great picture. I know that expression. He makes it all the time.”
Shooting weddings, I see many people who are conditioned to, upon seeing a camera, immediately stop doing what they were doing (which was probably something interesting, which is why I noticed them), turn, and put on a cheesy fake smile. Two people who were dancing, holding each other and looking into each others’ eyes, will stop, tilt their head together, and give a smile that they have never naturally smiled in their lives. The moment of the dance, the unguarded moment of two people perhaps recalling their own first wedding dance, is gone, replaced by the image of two people standing next to each other staring blankly at a third party. Even worse is when parents implore children to stand still and smile.
Here’s the thing: you are you. And that in and of itself is interesting. It is not your perfection that makes you interesting, it is your quirkiness. It’s not your lipstick that makes you interesting, it’s your smile. And it’s not just your smile; it’s the way your nose scrunches up when you laugh so hard you snort. That is a picture, and it’s a picture that could not be taken if everyone was thinking about looking perfect.
Photography is a great tool of documentation, and documentation is about capturing those unguarded moments when we are not at our best but we are at our ease. Taking those pictures at the family event when you are not looking your best is what photography is all about. It’s natural and organic, and it shows, and preserves, something of who we all are. Excluding yourself from a picture because you don’t like your hair, or your figure, or your outfit, is inverting the very reason for photography in the first place: to capture the interesting details and tell the interesting stories. There is certainly value in a formal posed portrait. But no one tells stories about those images, and those images don’t really tell stories themselves. But you, as a mom or dad, looking disheveled and exhausted? That is truth.
It’s easy for me to say. I stay on my side of the camera and expect candidness and authenticity from you. But more than that, I just ask that you be there. Be there in the picture, whether it is my camera or your own. Have the camera around in your house. Take lots of pictures of seemingly everyday things. And include yourself, regardless of how you feel you look (in the end, you always look like you, and again…that’s interesting). That’s documenting your family, and that is leaving a great record of stories for the next generations.
And don’t forget: make prints.