(Or why I fell in love with documentary photography and how I hope you will too)
I have a tendency towards nostalgia. I used to find it annoying to get all sentimental about things others seemed to brush off, like the change of seasons or packing up to go home from a family camping trip. And when my son was born, there came even more reasons to get sentimental. Every milestone seems to signal an end to a period of his childhood. His growth is beautiful to witness, but I’ll probably always reminisce about how, as a newborn, he could sleep anywhere and through anything (as long as it was on me!) or how he loved to climb everything to change his view of the world.
As I document more of these moments with my camera, rather than lamenting sentimentality, I try to use it as a tool to recognize and capture moments that matter. What’s more, I'm coming to think of nostalgia as a reminder that what we do in our daily lives is important and worth remembering and being sentimental over. Even the monotonous and mundane make up who we are and contribute to the lives of those around us and, especially, those closest to us. In short, the little moments matter. Like the silly songs I sing to get my son to open his mouth so we can brush his teeth. Or how he loves to snuggle in close while we read to him.
I'm often reminded (especially when I'm feeling overwhelmed by my to-do list) of the popular Annie Dillard quote, "How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives." Dillard explains, "What we do with this hour, and the next one, is what we are doing." Focusing on the next activity before I'm finished with the first is so hard not to do. I have an unending list of things I want to do (don’t we all!), but at the top, of course, is spending time with my family. Undistracted, present, quality time. It's a learned skill, for me at least. I can be easily distracted by the running dialogue in my head (dinner, dishes, dirty laundry, work, etc.), but I like to think I’m getting better. And it helps that my son is old enough now to participate in some of these mundane activities, like cooking dinner or feeding the cats and dog.
An ever growing appreciation for the value in spending my moments wisely (even when I'm utterly failing) are reasons I love photography. I can capture candid, fleeting moments, whether part of a special day or simply revealing of the sweetness in the routine, to savor and discover anew when one day I've perhaps forgotten, for example, how my son tilts his head to the side and furrows his little eyebrows whenever he's thinking hard about something. Or how peaceful weekend mornings can be when the house is quiet and we stand at the window and marvel at the sunrise.
I used to think, "How could I ever forget something like this?" But my memory fails me in so many ways. Life's daily demands have a way of overtaking space for even the sweetest moments that make up our days. Writing these moments down, taking pictures and videos - are all so important to helping us remember that what we do every day matters. Hopefully, passing these memories on to our children and theirs will help them remember this lesson too. As Aristotle put it, "You are what you repeatedly do." I'd like to repeatedly be present and appreciative of the simplest gift in life. Time to be with and celebrate loved ones and friends. And I want to capture that time beautifully to be remembered again and again.
Sentimental or not, this is why I’m passionate about documenting family moments. What are the moments that you want remember? And here's another manifesto, a more eloquent and farther reaching call to action than anything I could attempt, and one that inspires me to live more fully (and document along the way!).
"Life is about the people you meet and the things you create with them." - from the Holstee Manifesto
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