When I arrived at Mike and Clare’s house, Mike was wielding a pen-knife in boy scout fashion and excitedly removing an old sepia photograph from a crumbling frame. The image depicted a formal group at a wedding, a family gathering posed in a static arrangement to allow for the long exposure time to capture the moment for posterity. Mike had recovered it along with some others from an outhouse he was clearing out; it was in all likelihood just over a hundred years old. It was an emotive moment - I was now there to take photographs of his own family.
Mike is a leadership consultant at Aberkyn and author on the subject and Clare is a television and radio presenter - they are parents to four children. They are nothing if not passionate. Passionate about everything: family, faith, work, football, friends, life. I had known the family for a little while, in particular as neighbours in Winchester and I was always certain a photo shoot with them would be exceptional. When the opportunity did eventually arrive, I was taken aback by the generosity of access to the inner heart of family that they granted me. The experience is equally generously conveyed in Clare’s own words:
“Mike was the one who saw it first - ‘It’ being ‘The Golden Years’ of family life - when Lily (13) is her own person but yet so happy to be with us still, Maisie (10) is stepping into her true self, Hal (8) is so full of fun and without guile and Gabriel (6) is still young enough to be doted on by all the other siblings, and for him life is all about play…
This is the story of the Dolphin (watch her dive);
The Gazelle (watch her dance);
The Cheetah (watch him run)
And the Lion cub (watch him roll and bask in the sun!)
And all bound as one.
“As a family we are consciously trying to ‘make memories’ - family adventures or times of one on one: Sunday tea by the fire or Dad’s Saturday brunch… but how do we ‘capture’ those memories? My hope was to have someone photograph ‘the vernacular’, the everyday, to create a virtual and visual scrap book that goes beyond the scrubbed faces and the smiles.
“When Lily was born we had a fire in the house and it was pretty devastating. It certainly made us realise what was important in our lives - and the only thing we wanted to rescue was… the photographs… The memories, the stories, our history and that of the generations before us. Fortunately, we had never put them in albums - instead they were left in boxes stacked at the back of cupboards and so escaped the seeping tentacles of smoke damage and were mainly ok! Ever since then, photographs have been a critical part of our lives; when Mike’s Dad died we bought a good camera (for the first time) - so that we could record precious memories of our growing family.
“Though now we are awash with photographs - the children snap away at everything on our phones: a funny face made out of baked beans at the tea table, a hundred shots of conkers, handstands, beetles, goofy grins and the obligatory surfeit of selfies! Devaluing the currency - and yet documenting living history and making their own memories…
“So it was time to embrace the Golden Age and capture it by raising the photography bar - with James quietly watching and documenting our family chronicles… catching the laugh and the light, looking through a window into our world… family heritage recorded with split second accuracy that will make each moment last many lifetimes. Perhaps kept on a screen, perhaps in a frame, perhaps carried in the heart.”
When we got back from the second part of the shoot, we sat around the kitchen table with a cup of tea and contemplated the hundred year old print. What were we going to produce with the material that we had just captured? I am working on some ideas - there will be something beautiful that celebrates the now of childhood, for sure - but what I’d really like - what we'd really like - is if, in a hundred years’ time, like us around this table, someone would still be able to hold a photograph from this shoot and say, “That’s The Dolphin, The Gazelle, The Cheetah and The Lion. That’s our family”.