Photographing Our Everyday
We all take pictures of the milestones, big and little: the first days of school, the first lost tooth, high school graduation, and of course, birthdays. But what of the everyday moments? The in-between that, really, is the essence of our lives?
Ordinary Days Filled with Extraordinary Moments
I’m willing to bet you can conjure images in your mind of many of these—they are what make up the fabric of our memories, after all.
- dad pulling into the driveway after a full day at work
- grandma knitting on the front porch
- little brother building Legos
- mom doing the crossword with a cup of tea
- kids brushing their teeth before bed
- spring cleaning the garage
Have you ever taken pictures of these moments?
The Extremes of Documenting the Everyday
There is a genre of photography known as documentary family photography, which takes this idea to great heights, elevating the everyday into beautiful art.
At the other end of the spectrum, some people find the urge (popular among many younger Instagram fans) to document every last morsel of their existence, well, a bit much. As Meredith Fireman wrote in a Fast Company article entitled “How Instagram Almost Ruined my Life”:
“Sometimes I want to talk to my friends and celebrate someone’s birthday without needing to see them blow out the candles in a photo uploaded by five people in attendance.”
I’m not advocating either of these approaches (though for anyone interested in hiring a family photographer, I do think choosing a pro with a strong photo-journalistic sensibility often yields a wonderfully unexpected result!).
I am, however, suggesting that you use the camera that’s with you (most often, your phone) to snap photos that represent your real life. That will remind you down the road of what it was like to live in that house, to go to school in that town, to be you at that age.
Details of Time & Place
Why do we all love looking at old photos so much? The nostalgia, of course, is infectious and charming. The scalloped edges and white frames of those old black-and-white photos feel cemented in time, like artifacts of another reality.
And they are. It’s not just the fading photographs themselves that lend to this feeling, though; it’s the details within the images that resonate: the curly phone cord tethered to the wall, the wood paneling so indicative of the Seventies, the beehive hairdos of the Sixties, the shape (and size!) of our eyeglasses.
When I look back at pictures of my own son from just a few years ago, I am most drawn to those that reorient me in time. The ones that transport me back to the feelings of new motherhood in a Brooklyn apartment, and the memories of juggling work and home life.
When I shuffle through the boxes of my mom’s old photos, it’s the ones that reveal what her everyday life was like that I cherish. Sure, her high school graduation picture is stunning, and framed in my room. But the shot of her walking down a city street in her Inwood neighborhood as a teenager is compelling—I want to sit down with that young woman and be her friend; I want to hear her stories.
Our Stories, in Pictures
Our photos tell the stories of our lives. And our lives, frankly, are not merely birthdays and weddings. Our lives are lived in the in-between.
So tell those stories. Write about them, and photograph them.
Your memories matter. Why not make preserving them a priority?
- Browse the photo gallery of documentary family photographer Kirsten Lewis for ideas for creative ways to capture your own everyday moments artfully.
- On Instagram, search #thefamilynarrative and #lifewellcaptured to see what other families are photographing (and sharing).
- Got a box of disorganized photos from your childhood—or even your parents’? Go through it and find the photos showcasing everyday moments: Do you gravitate toward them? Why? Find one or two you might want to recreate from your present-day life.
- Tell the stories of your photos. And no, not every story needs to have high drama or represent a major turning point to be interesting.
- Track down a copy of Joe Brainard’s classic book I Remember to see how everyday memories can transform from mundane to magical.
- Share your own photos on Instagram and tag @modernheirloom #photographtheeveryday —we’ll share a gallery of reader submissions in a future post!