About five years ago when my youngest daughter was born, I decided I would create an annual photo album that included all my favorite images from that particular year. I started making three copies: one for each of my daughters and one for me and my husband. My hope is that when they are adults, they will have a collection of albums that document every aspect of their lives, a gift of memories that has been neatly organized and packaged with a pretty bow.
However, after a few years of creating these albums, I realized I was not included in the pictures as much as their father. My legacy as a mother was not being documented. I had been photographing my children’s life story from my perspective, leaving out one of their favorite characters.
This is something my mother also did as she documented her own children’s lives. When I sift through photographs of my past, there are missing puzzle pieces. Stories that are not fully captured and can never be recovered. I know many hours were spent on my mother’s lap and nestled within her embrace. I know there were many hours spent reading stories, brushing tangled hair and having tea parties, but I cannot find any tangible “proof” of those moments.
My mother was a stay-at-home mom who spent her days raising my two younger siblings and I. From what I remember from our childhood, we seldom watched television and instead were encouraged to spend our days drawing, painting and playing outside. My mother helped us with all of our school projects, never forgot a school pickup/drop-off and sat front row at all of our many sporting events. She was everywhere in our lives, but not very often present in our documented past.
“I know there were many hours with my own mother that were spent reading stories, brushing tangled hair and having tea parties, but I cannot find any tangible 'proof' of those moments.”
I would have cherished a few nice photographs of just the two of us, but there are not many. I suppose this is due to her wanting to be photographed when she was only at her “best,” something so many mothers struggle with, including myself.
I want to document every special moment of my children’s lives, which means I ― and most mothers ― am often the one behind the camera. I want to capture every important milestone and every detail so I do not forget a particular chapter in our story. It is a lingering fear that I have: If I do not capture it, I will not remember it. I rely on these photographs to help fill in the pieces of my past where my memories are faded. So when the pitter-patter of feet can no longer be heard through our home, I will always have my photos to transport me back in time. Photographs serve as tiny pieces to a larger puzzle; the puzzle of one’s life story.
I am a photographer, so I often lug my camera around with me wherever I go to make sure I do not miss out on capturing a special memory. Even the mundane moments are important to me. I pride myself on my ability to thoroughly capture our fun adventures; it is rare that an activity or milestone goes undocumented in my house.
After realizing I have also been inadvertently omitting myself from my children’s past, I embarked on a personal project of self-portraiture with my children. I want them to feel that all-encompassing love I have for them. I want them to be able to see the evolution of my journey as their mother. And most importantly, I want them to see all parts of this journey ― the days I am tired or look frazzled as well as those days filled with happiness. Because motherhood is filled with highs and lows, and including both provides a more accurate depiction that my children deserve to see.
Most mothers want the portraits that are professionally taken, but I think it is important for mothers to photograph themselves with their children, regardless of what they look like, what they are wearing or how they are feeling that day. Capturing both the great and the not-so-great moments not only is necessary for a more truthful representation of their life story, but it is also reality. And it is a reality that is not often documented in its rawest form.
With this self-portraiture project, I’m capturing various portraits of my children and I with the help of a tripod and a self-remote camera timer. I have photographed the quiet moments as well as the not-so-perfect moments of our daily life in order to document our life story in a more authentic manner. And I want to encourage other moms to do the same ― no matter the photography expertise they have.
I know in my heart that these photographs of them with me are images they will cherish more than the photographs of themselves. The many portraits of them that I have taken over the years, those are mostly for me … so I will always remember how little my children once were. But these photos of my children with me … these are for them. So they will always remember how much they were and still are so very loved.
Have a compelling first-person story you want to share? Send your story description to firstname.lastname@example.org.