Documenting my children is a huge priority for me, whether I’m writing a weekly letter to Bee or Instagramming daily moments that melt my heart. I know I won’t always remember the folds of her hands or hue of her newborn hair, but I can do my best to mentally capture these early days to the best of my ability. In that same vein, a few of my favorite photographers have joined forces for a weekly project that’s as inspired as it is captivating – a year in the life of their children – from one side of the lens to another. And although the photos alone are beautiful and telling and wise, it’s their words that are impacting me today…
In the creative lull that often begins at the start of a new year, photographers Meaghan Curry, Kelsey Gerhard and Becky Zeller began brainstorming project ideas to force themselves to put down their phone cameras and pick up their “real” ones more regularly. The result is You Are My Wild: a visual anthology of childhood, beautifully documented from around the country.
“There is no one that I would rather photograph than [my daughter] Nora,” writes Meaghan. “Sometimes, I find the fact that she is utterly unable to take any direction right now to be beyond frustrating. But, when I just accept that and allow the moments to unfold naturally … that is when I take the pictures that I treasure the most.”
And isn’t that telling of parenthood in general? Sometimes when we take a step back, observe and capture the moments as they are – rather than as we expect them to be – a certain kind of beauty unfolds. “Even on the more boring of days, those with the least light, and the worst moods, you can always find beauty if you look for it,” writes Becky.
Scrolling through each photo, I’m mesmerized by the many facets of each personality – all so perfectly frozen in time. From charming to curious and lively to sincere – every emotion is a watermark on each photo, formed and stamped for prosperity. Never styled, never forced.
“I am not the type of photographer who has some big vision and tries to execute it through her children – I really let them lead me,” writes Kelsey. “Their world is infinitely more interesting than anything I could dream up. That said, I compose and choose what to capture and share, so my work is truly what I see in them. I am sure if they were to choose how they were portrayed every week it would be a much different looking project.”
Ryan Marshall has a similar notion about shooting his daughter, Tessa. “I want her to look back on these images from this year and see her likes, and interests, and see her personality emerging and solidifying,” Ryan writes. “I try very hard not to stage these photos, I don’t pose her, but what I will do is make note of the things she was really drawn to that week, and be sure to initiate that activity so each week the picture has a heavy relevancy to her story. When I look back on pictures from when I was a kid, I almost never pay attention to the main subject, I am always searching the details … It pieces together these foggy memories from childhood and really reinforces the perception you have of yourself.”
It’s such an interesting dichotomy – the way our children see themselves vs. the way we see them. When our children look back and notice the details surrounding their lives, homes and personalities – how will they piece them together? What story will they reveal? “I guess I look at projects like this, and photos in general, as little clues I am leaving behind for them so they can better figure out how they got to wherever they end up,” Ryan writes.
Kelsey calls these clues “visual love notes,” saying that each one is “creating permanence out of fleeting seconds of time. I hope my girls will be able to look back at these pictures many years from now and know that I noticed it all, and that every bit of them, at every stage of their life, was valid, appreciated, treasured and loved.”
Yet just as photographers balance light and shadows, words and pictures, their craft is a juggling act, as well. Kati Dimoff writes, “My children will end up with tangible documentation of their childhoods. But will they be annoyed that I always had a camera out? There’s a good chance. I hope the good outweighs the bad and they can recognize my good intentions and forgive my faults.”
Becky mentioned something similar, writing “I actually sometimes think that this compulsion I have to document every, single, little, last thing has made me a somewhat less present parent than I would like to be, ironically enough.”
I often think the same when I sit down to tell Bee’s stories. At what point am I taking myself out of the stories that are happening this very moment, simply so I can write them later? How much do I remember from the other side of the lens – the side where my daughter is laughing and playing and tugging at my hem as I scribble notes on a post-it, furiously documenting the moments and thoughts and feelings and memories?
It’s a thought I’ve been personally struggling with as I write about this beautiful project today. But then I stumbled upon this portion of the interview, where Ryan wrote about photographing his 3-year-old:
“Taking pictures of Tessa is tough; it’s always a challenge to get her to stop “posing,” but once she finally stops smiling and gets bored, I always wait her out, she settles into herself, and I get the shot. She will ask sometimes, “Dad, what are you waiting for?” and I say: “You.”
And then I worry less and breathe deeper, knowing that our children will always settle into themselves – as long as we wait for them. Whether there’s a pen in our hand or a camera around our neck, it matters not. We wait and watch and observe and love, and if all of those things are happening, the stories will eventually write themselves.
Image Credit: You Are My Wild
p.s. Just for fun: The wisdom of 6-year-olds.