I follow a couple of accounts on Instagram called @makemotherhooddiverse and #familieslikemine. They challenge the single story of family and motherhood that we commonly see.
Just the other day, I went to get my hair washed and styled on a cold, wet day because I could not be bothered to wash my own hair. It was a spontaneous decision after catching a glimpse of my roots in the mirror and realizing that my calendar was clear for an hour, so my typical stylist was not available on an hour’s notice. The stylist Google selected for me was lovely, and I adored the Brazilian wave look she created, but when she asked me what my husband did for a living, I wasn’t sure how to respond. I felt like I had two choices: 1. Explain that I don’t have a husband I have a wife (I was wearing my wedding rings); or 2. Lie.
I choose option 1 most of the time, but I find it makes the person feel so uncomfortable because either a. they are so embarrassed that they don’t have the education to know that in 2019 people marry the same gender, or b. they were comfortable when I was a straight woman sitting in the chair but now that I’m a lesbian sinner, they wish they would’ve passed me to the next person.
So, I chose 2. Sometimes to choose 2 feels so sickening. To hide who I am feels like soul suicide. But, it didn’t that day. It felt like self care because I didn’t want to talk about my husband or myself. Did I mention I was too tired to wash my own hair? And, choosing option 1 sometimes means I receive more questions to tell my coming out story or they tell me about other gay people they know so I don’t feel bad about myself. But, here’s the thing: I don’t feel bad about myself. We don’t need to do this dance of codependency where we take care of each others’ feelings. We could just say, “Oh, yes, I’m still learning how to be more inclusive…what does your wife do?” Or even better, don’t ask people what they do. I love my job more than your average person, but I don’t want to explain what I do. Ask people what they’re passionate about. Ask people what they do for fun. Ask people what breaks their heart.
What breaks my heart is the ways we exclude people from the table.
When my ovaries began to long for a child as they do when you’re biologically nearing the end of your window to bear a child, I wasn’t even sure where to begin. I was and am still married. But, to a woman. My prayer for a few years was “Thy Will Be Done and, by the way God, if I’m supposed to be a mother, please make it so blatantly obvious.” And, I’m a mother by adoption to my son, Samuel. His name means God has heard. There was never any question that was his name.
When I was searching for a family photographer for our family a couple years ago, I scrolled through portfolio after portfolio. Dallas Fort Worth has a number of talented family photographers. But, I gave up the hunt and set my camera on a tripod with a self timer and very low expectations. It’s not because I’m cheap…I am not…I’m a photographer’s dream client because I value the art. It’s not because my family is easy to photograph…they are not. They complain about the sight of a camera and a request to pose more than your average family. I have to bribe them just like you have to bribe yours. Cake pops, brunch, ice cream, screen-time, etc.
I gave up because I didn’t find photographer portfolios in Fort Worth of families who looked like mine.
That experience of not finding a portfolio with families like mine moved me to review my own portfolio. What story of family was I telling? Lo and behold, I saw that I was essentially telling the same, tired but beautiful traditional heteronormative nuclear story everyone else was. Slowly, I began to rewrite my definition of family and refine what it was I wanted to create in family photography.
This year, I’ve photographed some incredible families who challenge the single story of motherhood and family. Thankfully for me and so many children, there are many ways to become a mother; there are many ways to make a family. I’ve witnessed people walk through birth and death and everything in between. I’ve seen a number of miracles, too. In case there was ever any doubt: I am an inclusive photographer of all people and families including those in the LGBTQ community, as well as any person regardless of race, religion, culture, etc. I learn so much from the families I photograph and look forward to photographing people who think and live and love differently than I do. I’d love to tell the story of your uniquely beautiful family.
I photographed a family this month whom I’ve watched grow from a family of 3 to a family of 6. When I began my path as a family photographer, I just didn’t know I’d get to watch families grow. I was a decade younger myself than I am now, and I’d believed what “they” had told me about trying to make a living as an artist. I’m still trying to determine who exactly “they” are. But, I wasn’t sure it was possible, and here I am.
I find if I don’t spend an hour on Sunday blocking time for what’s most important, my schedule rules me. And, I began to cry a little, which isn’t all that uncommon for me because I live in gratitude, and I find tears accompany that. I am just so grateful that this path has worked out for me. I still find such immense joy in portraits and the art of lifestyle family photography.
This year, I’ve created something special for my existing clients that I’m thrilled to announce. I’ve collaborated with a designer who is designing us a beautiful set with gorgeous winter floral so you can get your holiday cards done in style. Given that it’s still in the 90s outside, it may seem early to think about the holidays, but creating something so beautiful takes time. And, if you’re like me, a free weekend is a rarity these days. These sessions are ideal for kids because they’re short and sweet, but they’re also a beautiful gift for grandparents, so fly them in for this!
Sessions will occur on Saturday, November 16, 2019, at The DarkRoom in Fort Worth located near TCU. A gorgeous set decorated for the season will be the perfect setting for your family photos.
This year’s package includes:
- 20 minute session in our styled set (up to 6 people),
- around 10-15 photos uploaded to Minted for you to create your holiday card with epic ease
- an online proofing gallery for viewing and sharing
- all of the high resolution images at a special price of $250
- 4” x 6” matte prints with a 1/2 inch white border from your entire session can be added for $25.
- 4x6 antique gold glass photo box to hold prints $75 (together with prints, this makes a stunning holiday gift)
See the inspiration for the set below. The furniture will be a tad more on the modern side. Click HERE to reserve your spot. Space is extremely limited, and I anticipate spots will sell out quickly.
The other day, I opened up an old journal, and a print-out from The Velveteen Rabbit fell out. It’s this one:
I love it. I’ve always loved it. Real has long become the goal for me - in my personal and professional life. In fact, I really can’t compartmentalize my life like that at all. I’m sitting writing this at the dining room table where I wrap up print orders and create my most creative ideas. It’s the same table that tells stories of our holiday meals and birthday celebrations. I’ve got my boy’s baby monitor on one side and the cameras I used for today’s session on the other. I’m wearing the blouse I ironed this morning and pajama pants.
Real talk. Real entrepreneurial talk. No boundaries. Just like motherhood.
Sure, I strive to be present with my son while we’re together. I work only when he’s at school or asleep. And when I’m working, I strive not to worry about him, but that’s easier said than done. I asked a friend a while back whose kids are grown: What was easier for you - working while your kids were young or staying home with them? She’d mentioned she’d done it all over the course of their lives: full-time stay at home (which let’s be honest is also ‘working’) mom, full-time work-outside-the-home-mom, part-time worker / part-time mom.
I remember she paused to think about it. Her eyes glancing up at a diagonal. And, how she answered is not important because it’s not the point here, but I vividly remember she said it was because she felt like she could be the most present.
If you’re a mom and you’re reading this, I’d imagine that each morning when you wake you feel pulled in a number of directions. And, each night when you go to sleep, you wonder if these were the “right” directions and if you let yourself be pulled equally and enough. I hear it all the time from my clients. And, over the past 2 years, I’ve experienced it myself. I have but one child. And a doting partner. So it’s two on one most of the time here. I learn so much from the moms who have more longevity in their motherhood careers.
I’ve photographed this particular family for a number of years. There are six of them now, and I think when I began documenting them, there were 3. I typically ask parents to come dressed for some photos. I’m interested in interaction and connection, and I believe with all my heart that your children will want to see you someday. I say this as a 36-year-old woman who can find few photographs of her own aging mother whose camera trauma is so complex that she will not allow me to photograph her. Camera trauma is a topic for another day.
With four children, this mom didn’t make any promises about coming ready. How does one leave the house with four children? Upon the arrival of the third child, the defensive strategy must shift from man to man to zone.
She told her kids they were going on a play date to the Kimbell. And, that’s exactly what it was. This is a fabulous idea, Parents. Would you rather go “take photos” or “go on a play date?” If you have a husband or photo-reluctant spouse, this works for them, too. The girls insisted on wearing dresses that were not what Mom wanted. Brothers’ shirts kinda clashed. The girls were adamant about no bows. It was at least 90 degrees outside because Texas. Summer. Mom was like “I think I wore this same blouse to the last one-year-old shoot 2 years ago. It’s a beautiful white blouse with scalloped sleeves, so I’ll allow it. But, the irony is not lost on me that kids get a new wardrobe every three months while we alternate the same three outfits for years. I looked up at her sunglasses, and as if she was reading my mind, she said, “Can I just leave them on?” Sunglasses on her head are for her, the motherhood equivalent of a security blanket. Sure. Let’s be real.
I realized about 5 minutes before the family arrived that I’d forgotten a memory card for my digital camera. This is normally one of the things I’d omit from sharing publicly, but let’s keep it real even with a decade of experience as a photographer: I’m a human. I forget things. I make mistakes. But, I had tons of film in tow, and it was nearly high noon because 4 kids’ schedules are not always conducive to golden hour, so film is and was actually the logical choice because of the way it handles light. My assistant asked me if I wanted her to go to my home to get a memory card, and I thought about it.
There are times in my commercial work where digital is the correct tool for the job. And with four unpredictable fast kids, perhaps digital is indeed the more likely choice, too.
But, I love film. So, I said no. And, because I’ve known Mom for 15 years or so, I knew a do-over second play-date at the Kimbell would be possible in the worst case scenario.
What I found though was that not having the back of the screen to view expanded my capacity to see and attend to what was happening in front of me in real time. I don’t really believe everything happens for a reason, but I do believe that there are no coincidences. I think forgetting the card was just the Universe’s way of moving me to create a more authentic, less contrived story of family.
I’m tired of seeing perfect family photos. I yawn and scroll on. I’m tired of trying to get everyone to smile. Have you seen what happens when you ask a toddler to smile?
It’s downright horrifying. Stop it. Stop asking your kids to smile all the time especially when they’re not happy. Let’s teach our kids to be real. Real with their emotions, real about who they are. Whew, I’m getting fired up here. I spend a bunch of time with families, and the one in which I was raised was ripe with disruption, which is the clinical term for chaos.
I won’t lie that when I mailed the film to Richard Photo Lab, I was a little worried. With all of the moving parts, I just wasn’t sure what the results would be.
But, I wept when I saw these film scans. My client did, too. This is them. The REAL them. True. Beautiful.
“I bet there were some funny outtakes, too,” she said. And, I came clean about not taking any digital photos.
These are the outtakes. I left nothing on the cutting room floor - in this case beneath my dining room table. I shot 3.5 rolls of medium format film. 4 images were blurry. I delivered 56 real, true photos of a beautiful, loving family.
I’d love to tell a real story of your family, too. What’s real can’t be ugly except to people who can’t understand.