Perhaps one of the greatest gifts given back to the photographer for their efforts is a “forced eye”. Camera in hand, training gone well, the photographer approaches subjects with an attempt to see the “best” of what’s in front them. In their mind’s eye, photographers are framing, adjusting, and shifting almost constantly to reframe the shot to adjust to their style and taste.
While no two photographers will approach the same subject in the same exact way, a golden thread of editing that runs between all good photographers takes place before the image ever makes it to the camera's sensor. Our forced eye often demands of us to eliminate trash bins, for example (unless of course, those subject matters are the point of the shot entirely or somehow tell the story of the photograph at hand). We are filling the frame, we are checking the corners, we are leveling out lines, we are adjusting exposures and making creative choices. As one of my photography mentors often reminds me, “As a photographer, you are only as good as what you show.”
When I began this blog as a non-photographer so many years ago, our first baby, Georgia, was just a few weeks old. Our house wasn’t beautiful, but it was cared for and we were grateful for it. Stuart and I, both being fairly clean people, means I didn't “eliminate” too much out when framing a given shot. I think about this part of my life like running around a track. I wanted to run, I ran. Simple as that.
I’ve now put hundreds of thousands of photographs under my belt over the course of the last fifteen years. Our home has been under almost constant construction and we added three more children to the mix. Their ability to spread paint supplies, LEGOS, and food remnants is a super power. These days, for me to take a photograph, there’s a lot of “elimination” that has to take place.
Juliette, can you please move your banana peel from the coffee table?
Georgia, I need you to pick up your yarns from the table so we can set it please.
Owen, any LEGOS left on the carpet are getting sucked up in the vacuum!
William, did you fill your boot entirely with sand before dumping it out on the floor?!
(You can see that it escalates quite quickly.)
This part of my life is like running around a track, but with four cheetahs in the race. It’s just not as simple as before.
I should disclaim that not all of the “real life” issues in life come from having children about the house. There’s plenty us adults are responsible for as well: broken fences tied up with twine, gardening tools left in obnoxious places, garbage bags filled with who-knows-what stashed outside the kitchen door.
The speed at which real life takes place for us is so very fast. Inevitably in our home, this includes bandage wrappers, junk mail, ketchup smears on dirty places, baskets of clean laundry waiting to be put away, empty milk jugs, math books, plastic dolls with neon pink hair, and more pencils than you can possibly imagine. Not exactly what I hope to feature in any given image that I capture.
There’s a place for this wonderful “real life” photography. But I certainly don’t want cough drop wrappers and berry stains in my Cooking Community photographs.
My point I’m sharing with you, if there is one, is that my solution to this problem hasn’t been to eliminate real life. That is impossible and I would never wish to do so. The alternative of staying creatively stunted as real life takes place is equally frustrating.
So I’ve gone to work at capturing moments anyway.
I’ve been pressing myself to bring out my camera and to see what I can find: no staging involved. While there may be “editing” in the sense of me removing apple cores out of the photograph, the rest is what is.
I think I’ve been able to enjoy and capture some really beautiful photographs.
Turns out, the solution wasn’t to make life more beautiful – it was for me to be a better photographer. Again, to quote a photography mentor: “You want to be a better food photographer? Be a better photographer. You want to be a better lifestyle photographer? Be a better photographer. You want to be a better nature photographer? Be a better photographer.”
I think I get the point.
Insert many – “you can only change yourself quotes” – here. Dare I say, they're most likely cliche because they're true. This wasn’t about forcing my family into some color-coded-picture-perfect mold of life, nor was it about being “relatable” and showing my filth. This entire effort has been about changing my eye, growing in skill, and capturing the moments that are there.
This has been a wonderful mercy to me. A training of eye, but perhaps more important a training of heart, through my Leica lens.