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{behind the scenes} I am not neutral about summer | Washington DC family documentary photographer

i am not neutral about summer.

My emotions run the gamut from relish to revulsion. Relish for lightning bugs and long evenings and gently baking on sandy beaches. Revulsion for the sweaty pillowcases, towels that never dry in the too-humid bathroom, and Heat-Index induced cabin fever. Relish for lazy afternoons spent reading detective novels and watching my kid play with the hose; revulsion for the decay of any kind of routine (which just means my kid is getting too much screen time…)

Summer Photo-a-Day project Red Turtle Photography

One way I’ve reckoned with this love/hate relationship with summer is to aggressively document it – pointing my camera and photographing everything that has come our way. At my sweet son splashing in the creek, at the umpteenth hour of Lego Movie Video Game, at the ocean waves lapping over the Outer Banks, and at the bedroom renovations that agitate a nagging core of anxiety in my gut. And it’s made the ups and downs more memorable, more bearable, sweeter and less fleeting. My goal is to have at least one photo every day of our summer. I’ve missed two days but the other 50 (and counting) days, I’ve made so many beautiful photos of our adventures, and our lack-thereof. Ice cream cones, wading pools, the beach, video games, late afternoon naps…

Summer Photo-a-Day Project  Red Turtle Photography

Some days, the story of our day is about me – like yesterday when I sat down to start writing a client newsletter and it turned into a much longer post (the one you’re reading right now). I spent much of the day at my friend’s dining room table, enjoying her hospitality while our children kept each other occupied. It’s a necessity of single-child parents: surrogate siblings. As much as Vi is like a sister to my son Del (evidenced by the many summer photos of them together), Ann is like a sister to me. Iced tea, snacks, the kids run wild in the backyard, and I can get a little work done between chats. With the crazy un-routine of summer unraveling me, these days are a respite in which a few things get checked off my to-do list.

Summer Photo-a-Day Project  Red Turtle Photography

Are you the photo documentarian in your family?

What motivates you to photograph your family? What do you do with the images you create?

I hope you’re keeping them and using them! I talked with a client a few weeks ago who realized as we talked, that she grew up with photo albums all around her home – her mom even still has the volumes containing those snapshots of childhood, teen years, even college photos. But, there were no such albums for her own daughter. Just, an iPhone. Hope we’ve all got our Apple Care. 😉

We almost certainly take more photos of our kids than our parents did of us. To what end? Are we snapping away because we’re bored and the phone is in our hand so why not? Or are we taking these pictures because our lives – and these precious crazy people we share it with – are worth savoring and remembering?

All it takes to go from the “bored” to the “worth savoring” is a shift of mindset.

Because, God, this is all going by so fast, I just want to hold on to those moments when my son’s joy is my joy, when I feel so deeply my own connection to my past through the eyes of my child. How many summers do we get with these kids at our feet?

Summer Photo-a-Day Project  Red Turtle Photography

I have a little less than one month of my summer photo-a-day project left, then I’ll be writing a lot about what to do with the photos we create for our families – they belong in our lives. Our hard drives won’t cherish them. We will. Our kids will.

Remember, before digital cameras, you had to develop your film to see your photos. They came into the world. Our grandmothers and mothers put them albums or in shoe boxes, or, like my Grammy did, filled dresser drawers with them. They pulled out the good ones and put them in frames. Where ever they were, they were tangible. They’re things we have and see.

Now though. Unless we get motivated and make a calendar or a photo book, they’re kind of stuck. At best, they  move from the camera or phone, to the computer, and the nice ones get posted to Facebook. And Facebook feeds them back to us yearly so we can remember them! But when your laptop is closed, and when your phone gets replaced by the newest model, where are your photos? …

When Del was very small, I was balancing new motherhood with starting a full time photography business. I didn’t feel much overlap between my creative self and my mom self, so I was only shooting photos when I was working with clients. I did a few photos of my baby with my good camera, but too few and far between. I took tons with my phone though. It took me three years to realize that those photos stuck in my phone were hard to look back to – the more of them there are the harder they are to look at. I discovered a super simple album vendor and made my first photo book of iPhone pictures and gave it to my son for Christmas. A book all about our every day life with the simple, beautiful photos from my phone. I did it again the next year. And then, in the last year or so, through my own process of giving space to my creative self, brought the “big camera” back into daily life and slowly it has grown to a daily practice.

Which brings me back to summer.

This year was our first “between two school years” summer. Wanting it to be a good, long, free summer for all of us, and wanting to safeguard the memories we could make in it, I decided it was time to try this daily photo thing that so many photographers do.  My summer “photo-a-day” project has taught me so much about be present in my child’s life (and my own), in recognizing these rich moments that march past me every single day, and reaching out to grab them in photos. As we’ve unspooled the hours and given up on rational meal and bed times, as we’ve had road trips and day trips and play dates, and left the door open when the a/c is running and forgotten to turn the hose off… well. It’s all here – at the end of summer we’ll make a book with our favorite photos. Our first “between school years” summer will stay at our fingertips for as long as anyone is alive who wants to look at it.

That feels pretty amazing.

Summer Photo-a-Day Project  Red Turtle Photography

It feels like a gift: to the “right-now” me, and to the me of the future when this crazy kid isn’t a kid anymore, isn’t under foot and under my wings. A gift to the “right now” him, because revisiting moments is part of his developing sense of self, and to future him when he’s grown, independent, and longs to reconnect with his childhood. A gift to grandchildren I might one day have, to show them the story of our particular, quirky little branch on the tree of humanity, their story before they even came on stage.

That is pretty amazing.

xo, Katie

Summer Photo-a-Day Project  Red Turtle Photography


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