Well, it’s turning into a year of flashbacks. We just celebrated my mother-in-law’s 80th birthday and were blessed not just with good weather for her outdoor party but also the presence of her entire family of children and grandchildren, a rare occasion. I had my camera to record some candid moments and when I saw my wife and her siblings standing in a doorway one particular shot sprang to mind immediately; sitting in a drawer back at home was a favourite print of the four of them as children. We produce it periodically to have a laugh at dinner parties. But actually what a record - a piece of micro-history documenting not only family hierarchy, but the fashion and photographic style of the time it was taken. I rather wish I had taken the print to the party as we would have been more likely to stage a copy of the poses, which might have been hilarious (Jim had had to stand on a box in the original) but that is beside the point. The fact is the original print is as accessible as an image now as it was forty years ago and my most important task to hand is to make a print of the new photo to file with it - the digital version may not survive as long.
Earlier this year I was asked to do a portrait session for a family who I had photographed ten years ago. I love this kind of work as you get a real feel for the value of photography, a sense of documenting the passage of time, a process here of growing up. I suppose, technically, all photography is documentary but the camera is never more powerful or evocative as when recording a sense of time, place, renewal or change and that is the essence of family photography. The photograph of Poppy aged 4 was taken on Fuji Neopan 400 and a selenium toned print was made for framing. The negatives show images of her bouncing around and laughing but I liked this shot of her contemplative look, a pose that she naturally adopted ten years later.
I am lucky to be able to forge relationships with families and help a few document their growth and evolving lifestyles over a period of years. Incremental changes add up and the record that emerges over time never fails to surprise me. I wonder if they’ll be able to look back in forty years on these photographs like we do with that print and maybe laugh or wonder at their family relationships, their clothes or the photographic style!
I had earmarked some images for this article a while back so it came as a complete surprise when just a week ago I was covering an event in France and bumped into a client whose family I had photographed in 2006. One of the two daughters I had originally photographed was present and I asked to do an up to date shot, below. It's a reminder to keep that camera handy - family photography is documentary photography whose value really comes to light over time.