My daughter has never been one to embrace “girly.” As a very young child, she didn’t take to pretty dresses or bows. She chose Diego over Dora. Her hair, even freshly brushed, is in a state of constant disarray and I swear it actually repels hair accessories that attempt to tame the beast. I find all of this humorous, endearing, sometimes frustrating, and even familiar.

When Heather told me one day about her little girl, Wren, with tomboyish tendencies and a special enchantment with insects, I knew I had an opportunity to capture a narrative about mothers and daughters and how similar they are, even if on the surface they appear to be very different.  We took a number of shots (See more on my Instagram feed) but I felt this one best summed up my take on the relationship we share with our daughters.  Even though the setting is similar in all of the photographs, the stories in each are a little bit different.

 

 

 

This image has lived in many nebulous versions in my head for a few years.  I see it as a pretty picture, with an elegant woman modeling traditional femininity for her daughter.  Her beautiful daughter, feminine in her own right, is interested in more tomboyish curiosities.  But more than that, I see Wren as a likeness of Heather herself, perhaps as a little girl, perhaps as a reflection of how she embodies and encourages curiosity, imagination, and independence.  Wren stays near her, a part of the scene, but in her own world at the same time.  Furthermore, maybe you get a glimpse of this small child as she will be in the future.

As parents, we are constantly modeling even when we may not be aware our children are watching. As they grow, they do indeed mirror our own expressions, habits, language, and behaviors. As we watch our babies grow, it is fascinating to think of all the things they might become. But in trying to envision what the future brings for them, we might take a look in the mirror.

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This shoot was bittersweet for me.  I have had the honor of knowing the Ferguson family for a little over a year and have been amazed by how easily they integrated into our relatively small city.  The more you get to know them, the more you like them, and even in the short hour or so of time we spent on this particular evening, I felt I got to know them even better–and liked them even more.

What fun it was to photograph this family of four in their element! We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect evening in terms of weather. The location was full of hills to climb and places to explore and they took every advantage of the warm weather and fresh air.  It felt absolutely liberating as we were just coming out of winter.

family observing fish in a pond

The kids were full of energy and jovial antics, just as they should be. It was easy to let them be themselves while I observed and clicked away.  They told their own story as they ran, climbed, twirled, and explored. Honestly, in the back of my mind I kept waiting for them to argue or fight, but they never did. I didn’t really think about it at the time of the shoot, but later remembered how easy they were with each other.

Brother and sister read a book together outside on a hill.
Boy reading in the grass

The best shots occurred, as they usually do, when they were simply being themselves.
Daughter holding her father's hand up to her face and smiling

Unfortunately for our community, we have to say goodbye to this fun, energetic, and very warm family as they start a new adventure. I wish them the absolute best and know that I speak for many when I say that you will be sorely missed.
silhouette of a family holding hands

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It was such a privilege to photograph Kate and her baby boy, Soren, at his young and fun age of six months. This session was done just a couple of weeks before Mother’s Day, so the importance of mothers being in the frame with their children, especially their babies, was at the forefront of my mind.
Babies grow and change at an amazing rate of speed that it’s sometimes only after the moment is gone that we are able to take the time to enjoy it. I knew from the time we started planning this session that I wanted to capture the little details and the gestures that pass so quickly one feels them but doesn’t necessarily get to see their beauty from an outside perspective.
As Soren grew sleepy during the session, Kate commented how much she enjoyed having her baby snuggled up against her. We admired his perfectly round head and chubby cheeks and how he hooked his finger over his nose when he sucked his thumb.
When Kate looks at these photographs in the future, I want her to relive how it felt to hold his relaxed, squishy little body. I want her to see how he made her smile and laugh. I want her to remember how he smelled when she kissed the top of his head. I want Soren to see someday how his mother cuddled him and gazed into his eyes. I want them both to see how they connected with each other so effortlessly.

Is there any moment in a mother’s life that is not improved by their baby’s smile and laughter?

How marvelous are the details that make this child his own little person?

In the calm moments, drink in the smells, the warmth, the softness.

I leave you with one last image that is not about the baby, but is absolutely about motherhood. In my mind, it was one of the most beautiful moments of the morning. Soren’s older brother needed a little attention while we were setting up and I was completely taken with the way Kate attended to him. Her gentle touch and calm voice, how she bent to his level to comfort him was everything that this shoot was about to begin with.

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“He said, ‘You become.  It takes a long time.  That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real, you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.'”–Margery Williams Bianco, The Velveteen Rabbit

When my middle child, Jacob, was 13 months old, he was hospitalized for a weekend with an infection in his neck.  On the pediatric ward, the staff gave him a stuffed cat as he was admitted to help ease the discomfort of blood draws, IV starts, and beeping monitors.  Honestly, there wasn’t much to the cat.  His fur was thin and he wasn’t as plush or sturdy as Jake’s stuffed animals at home.  If you pushed on his belly, he would meow.  But after a little bit of time, the meow turned to a yowl and then before you knew it the cat fell silent forever.  Still, something about the cat was special to Jake and he made that cat his best friend.  Before we knew it, “Kitty” became the ever-present lovey who smoothed the bumps and cuddled Jake to sleep.

Jake went almost nowhere without his buddy, which made us worry that Kitty would wind up lost one day.  So we decided we needed a spare.  Mind you, this is not a stuffed toy that we could simply run out and buy.  No, months after our inpatient stay, we asked an insider to visit the pediatric floor and nab another for us.  And just to be safe, when our youngest was born, I myself also walked from the maternity unit to the peds unit and asked for a second spare.  The intentions were good but misguided. Deep down we knew that there could never be a replacement for Kitty.

Fortunately, Kitty survived runny noses, errant bites of food, Jake’s baby brother, outdoor excursions, family travels, and as few laundry cycles as we could tolerate.  He benefits from goodnight kisses and talks in his own voice and language.  He has had a loyal and loving personality conferred upon him, and is treated by the whole family with the utmost respect.

About four years after Kitty first came to live with us, we read the book, Because Amelia Smiled by David Ezra Stein.  After that, Jake changed Kitty’s name to “Carmon.” (He meant Carmine, but, you know, 5 year-old phonetics.  He has since corrected the spelling.)

In time, it became clear that not only does Jake love Carmine, but he feels affection from Carmine.  This inspired me to create a series of pictures that illustrates their bond from the cat’s perspective.   I made the first photo about three years ago to convey the protective, tender love Jake experiences from his oldest friend.

A boy's stuffed cat kisses him tenderly as he sleeps.When Jake started kindergarten, Carmine had to stay behind.  I shot this photo to tell the story of starting a new stage, leaving babyhood behind.  Carmine and I shared the hesitation in letting our boy grow up.

A stuffed animal watches as his boy leaves for kindergarten.

When your lovey is as alive in your heart as any human being, you know that that lovey must wonder about the story of The Velveteen Rabbit and whether he will experience a similar fate.

A boy reads "The Velveteen Rabbit" while his own Real lovey reads over his shoulder.

“Of what use was it to be loved and lose one’s beauty and become Real if it all ended like this? And a tear, a real tear, trickled down his little shabby velvet nose and fell to the ground.” –Margery Williams Bianco, The Velveteen Rabbit

Carmine has lived a charmed life.  His eyes have been chewed.  His nose and mouth have had to be re-stitched.  He still wears the remnants of a string of yarn that was once a leash just long enough for Jake to lead him across the floor.  This is Carmine today, still living in Jake’s bedroom and in his heart.

Carmine, the lovey that lives, pictured with three of our favorite books, "The Velveteen Rabbit" by Margery Williams Bianco, "Because Amelia Smiled" by David Ezra Stein, and "Where the Wild Things Are" by Maurice Sendak

“Weeks passed and the little Rabbit grew very old and shabby, but his Boy loved him just as much. He loved him so hard that he loved all his whiskers off, and the pink lining to his ears turned grey, and his brown spots faded. He even began to lose his shape, and he scarcely looked like a rabbit anymore, except to the Boy. To him he was always beautiful, and that was all that the little Rabbit cared about.” –Margery Williams Bianco, The Velveteen Rabbit

 

The story of Jacob and Carmine is one so sweet that I want to hang on to it as a way of remembering how sensitive and caring my little guy is. I have wondered many times when Carmine will become part of the past.  In making these photographs, I ensure that even if he is left behind for good someday, he will never be forgotten.

That’s the story behind a whole slew of photographs of Jacob and his kitty. (I have other back stories in this series.)  What’s your story?

 

 

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scraped knees

 

Sometimes making a photograph is less about planning and more about anticipation of a moment.  This was taken about three years ago, when my youngest was four years old.  He fell and scraped his knees while playing outside.  The event itself was not unique, but I was moved to capture this part of childhood–not just his childhood, but the wounds and means of coping that come with any childhood–whether literal or figurative.  So when he ran inside for the Band-Aids, I ran for my camera, then waited for him to come back outside to apply them.

The details in this shot are what make it one of my favorites.  He is preparing to cover his knee scrape with a Band-Aid,  already having taken care of the other one and tossing the packaging to the side.  The wound is just a little one, but he takes comfort in doing something about it, concentrating more on his task than worrying about any pain he may feel.  He has old scrapes, old bruises, and otherwise dirty limbs.  He also sports a few tattoos in varying stages of wear.

While this is a story about Ollie, my rough and tumble kid who collects scars like some people collect stamps, who used to wear this specific hand-me-down jersey all the time, who was and is obsessed with temporary tattoos, and who is an independent do-it-himselfer, it is also about what it is like to be a young child.  It’s about being dotted with dirt, bruises, scrapes, tattoos, scars, and yes, Band-Aids.  It’s also about the marks on our skin that give us material for the tales we spin.  They tell us that we’ve been somewhere and done something.  They can represent tough times and how we cope with them.  The wounds can be raw, healing, or healed–still smarting, hurting less, or giving us experiences about which we can laugh.  They give us something to talk about.  If we were never to take falls, we would have no triumphs, and then we would have no stories to tell.

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