Design Aglow’s Editor Anna Powers shares lessons learned in this installment of our “What I Wish I Knew” series, chronicling the mistakes and revelations photographers have made on their business journey. We hope you find inspiration (and we’re sure that you’ll find some commiseration!) in these stories.
Confession: I have never been in a professional photograph with my children.
I am a photographer. You would think I know better.
It’s not like opportunities haven’t presented themselves. I’ve traded family sessions with wonderful photographers, but never cashed my family session in.
My two daughters–ages 7 and 4–have entire walls of images dedicated to their epic cuteness. My husband has plenty of pictures with the girls’ chubby hands hugging his legs.
But I don’t have anything. And that’s my own fault.
Here’s the thing: I don’t like the way I look.
Oh, there are plenty of things I DO like about myself: my quick, booming laugh; my honesty and persistence; my biting wit. The fact that I try hard, at relationships and work and life in general.
But for many reasons, both ridiculous and real, I can’t bear to see myself in a picture. The reality of me in the image doesn’t match up with the me that exists in my head. I am not what I want to be, at least physically, and that bothers me.
So for years, these insecurities spilled over into my own photographic work. When families would book a session “only for the kids,” I wouldn’t take the time to explain to them why getting in the picture, just for a few frames, is so important. I would nod in agreement, complicit in the acknowledgement that photo shoots, at least for the grownups, have an uncanny ability to make us think the worst of ourselves.
But here’s the thing: we may never look any different than we do now. We may never lose that 10 pounds that would make us feel our most fit, and we might be doomed to a life of flabby arms and a slightly crooked nose. And you know what? That’s totally OK. We are here, imperfect and loving and fully engaged in our moment–that’s exactly what I want my children to remember.
Photographs help children tell themselves the narrative of their lives, of how their parents loved them and how they were once small and then they grew and changed and prospered. Photographs stake a claim to our past–it was us! we were there!–that let us know that we matter. One of my most prized possessions is a tattered image of my mom and dad, shiny and young in their 30s, and me, toothless and grinning at 4 months old. My parents are long estranged, but I have the photographic proof that for an instant, they were happy.
I regret not educating my clients further, of not impressing on them the importance of preserving this small moment which looms so large in their childrens’ lives. I regret not telling them my story of ambivalence, of pulling out a picture of my own family to show them, of saying “Look, I did it…and you can too.”
I have that picture now. It’s a technically terrible photograph, taken late one Sunday afternoon. I set up my camera on the back porch (at the wrong aperture, no less), positioning myself–OK, hiding–behind my two kids. Shockingly, my daughters didn’t even complain; they sensed, perhaps intuitively, that the act of taking a family photo was a big deal.
So here it is. Poppy, my youngest, is out of focus. My husband can’t be bothered to take off his baseball cap. My older daughter Maisie desperately needs a hair brush. And I am constitutionally incapable of making anything other than a goofy smirk.
While this certainly isn’t professional caliber work, it’s a gesture toward what we are: my little family, perfectly imperfect. I am working on being more comfortable in front of the camera, because my kids deserve as much.
Our first family photo shoot, with a pro photographer, is just around the corner.
Anna Powers is the Editor in Chief at Design Aglow. Her freelance writing and photography have recently appeared in PIX, Emerging Photographer, and Bridebird Magazine. She lives in Orlando with that fine looking family (above), two cats, and one wild Min Pin.