WHY ORDINARY PHOTOS MATTER MOST
Tiny Mitch had tripped a few days prior and his little bruised eye was on the mend. You can bet he received a lot of extra kisses and cuddles. We were at his grandfather’s ranch in Wyoming spending time with family. Though Mitch was weak and unable to walk long distances, that didn’t stop his appetite for exploration and adventure. And sometimes his desire to be like the other, stronger kids, got the best of him and he would fall and hurt himself.
Mitch was busy following a kitty that he loved to pet. Grandpa was helping Ethan over a fence so he could explore and Natalie stood in the background drinking in the moment as grateful mother and chief protector. I love her. Then this photo happened: a perfect moment if there ever was one. We weren’t doing anything extraordinary or unique. In fact, it was the most common of days and we were doing the most ordinary things. What made it perfect was spending time with family. I took this photo and a thousand other photos this day … captures of ordinary moments unrehearsed.
The older I get, the more I believe it’s the ordinary photos that matter most. Ordinary captures of ordinary moments … those are the images I long to see. Recollections of love and life and the way things used to be. This image is one such photo.
A few months ago a follower-turned-friend asked if I would participate in a photography series she was working on for her blog. I plucked a series of ordinary photos and wrote a little about each image. She also asked some reflective questions; here are my responses to two of them:
QUESTION: What type of photos do you wish you had more of from your childhood?
ANSWER: Personally, I would trade every single family photo taken in a studio, with hair perfectly primped, necks wrapped in turtlenecks and ugly sweaters and those awful corduroys my mom used to make me wear …. I would trade all of that (every single one) for just one photo of my life as it actually was.
That great American tradition of family portraits is in many ways our greatest American tragedy. We trade the illusion of moments for real moments. We stand in front of canopies, under a tree, or in a field next to a vintage chair … color coordinated and dressed in our Sunday best. Sometimes we mix it up and wear casual clothes – as though we accidentally wore the same matching white t-shirts and jeans. Those portraits become the storefront of family tradition and about as meaningful as a thinly veiled advertisement.
However, the real canopy of life is never staged in a field or in a studio. They are camouflaged by the ordinary and mundane moments we so often overlook.
When we reminisce on our lives, we don’t say to ourselves or others, “Hey, remember when we stood in that studio or under that tree and took those family photos?” We don’t say, “Remember that time mom told us to stop and smile in front of the camera?” We don’t seek those photos out because they are not real and in no way represent our actual lives as we lived them.
I wish I had more photos of me playing in the sand or in mud puddles. I don’t want to see photos of me smiling into the lens … but rather the look on my face concentrating on the thing I was doing. I wish I had photos of my mom holding me as a toddler by the window on a warm summer afternoon … wiping away my tears after scraping my knee. I wish I had photos of my dad in the garage tinkering with tools or just sitting on the porch reading a magazine. I wish I had photos of the blanket forts I used to make. Not just the outside … but the stuff we did inside. I wish I had photos of the Star Wars bases I made out of shoe boxes and tape. I wish I had photos of making dinner as a family and those nights we ate scones and had syrup all over our faces. I wish I had photos of my empty bedroom with toys on the floor and homework on the bed.
I wish I had more photos of my life, unrehearsed. Ironically, the photos that were taken in the 70’s and 80’s that may have seemed like accidents back then are more treasured to me than all of the “hey smile for the camera” shots combined.
I want dirt and tears. Cuddles and cries. I want to see the life I lived through my childhood eyes.
QUESTION: What is one tip or piece of advice you would give to help people take "better" every day photos?
ANSWER: It is precisely the moments you don’t think about capturing that are the most valuable. If ever you’re tempted to not take a photo because the moment seems ordinary or routine … capture it!
Don’t ask people to stop what they’re doing and smile for your photos. Take photos like a paparazzi. And when you’ve taken 100 photos, take 200 more. Let your knees and stomach be your friend. Get on the floor and take photos from the angle your children see things.
Whatever you do, don’t capture photos. Capture moments. Moments unrehearsed.
Here is a link to the entire blog interview: http://lindsayrossblog.com/2015/03/every-day-photos-interview-chris-jones/
Ordinary photos of our ordinary life: