Honestly Documented: Why Documentary Photography?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the kind of work I want to create.  I’m going on a year of officially owning my “business”, and I’ve learned and grown so much more than I could have imagined in this short amount of time.  One of the major things I have learned is that I am drawn to the little details and small moments of someone's life.  Not only when I am working with families, but even when I’m out for a run or grocery shopping.  I notice how small a little girl’s hand looks in her father’s hand, or the way a child looks up at their parent lovingly.  I notice messy hair, mismatched outfits, little toes and toothless grins, because I know those little details and moments are only going to last for a brief time.  One day down the road, those are the little moments I believe a parent would miss and that a child would like to remember about themselves, and I think that’s why I’m so drawn to those things.  I’m not a mother yet… but I can only imagine how special those little moments and memories are.  

    I recently asked my Facebook friends what a favorite moment was that they had with their children on a daily basis… Something they know will become a cherished memory.  The responses were very similar and consistent.  The responses included nighttime routines, playing outside, reading a bedtime story, saying nighttime prayers, bath time, making dinner together, morning snuggles in PJs, sitting and eating at the dinner table together while talking about their day, nursing, seeing them for the first time after a long day at work…  These responses were straight from mothers’ hearts that know just how fleeting time is.  While reading through the responses, I couldn’t help but think that THESE are the moments that I need to capture for my clients.  The moments that will one day become cherished memories.  Real, raw, and meaningful.  Memories that not only the parents will remember for years down the road, but memories that children will also remember and be able to share with their children, and their grandchildren, and so on.  

    I’m learning that I want to capture more than just pretty pictures.  I want to capture a piece of my client’s history, no matter how small that may be.  Maybe it’s a normal evening at home, playing outside, snuggles with parents, and bedtime routines.  Or maybe it’s a lazy Saturday morning making pancakes and building forts in the living room.  Or it could even be going to grandma and grandpas for Sunday dinner… These are the memories that are important.  They are real, beautiful, and mean more than you know!  

Yep, you're right... This is me!  I encourage you to look back on some of your own old photographs and reflect on what you notice right away... What memories come back to you?  For me... Right away I see me, bare foot, with a fishing pole in my hand... Pretending to fish.  I was always outside, bare foot... I was a tom boy and LOVED to fish.  I see the front yard that I used to play for hours in each day... The swing set that ended up getting swapped out for a wooden one, that was eventually broken in half when that big tree you see in the background fell over on top of it.  I see our two cats, Cotton and Jessica.. Jessica would disappear for weeks at a time and show up just when we thought she was a goner.  And Cotton... she was around for a long time and had a LOT of kittens.  I still remember vividly playing with them in the yard, and my little brother toting them around in his wheelbarrow.  I see the sink hole that we used for a fire pit, and think about all the bonfires we had with people that we loved.  I think about the huge swing that dad put in that big tree... It went SO high, but we were never afraid because we knew dad wouldn't let us get hurt.  And that car... Well, I don't remember that car.  So now I'm sitting here wondering how long we had that car and when did they get rid of it and buy that awesome New Yorker I remember so vividly?  ;)  Do you see all the memories that just ONE picture can bring back?  I love this picture, and can't wait to show it to my own kids one day.  

    If I can be honest with you, I’ve been putting off writing this blogpost… For one, because I know it’s a type of photography style that most people aren’t familiar with.  It means opening your home and your family to me and allowing someone to capture your real life (which may not always be pretty).  Another reason I’ve been putting it off is because I’m a little scared that I may fail at this.  What if people don’t like what I have to offer?  What if the pictures I take aren’t “pretty” enough for them?  What if people don’t feel comfortable opening up to me?  What if I can’t capture the true essence of their family?  These doubts and fears run through my mind over and over.  But, above it all, I feel a nudge in my heart telling me to do this.  

    I pray daily for God to speak to me and show me the direction He wants me to go.  This has been placed on my heart for a while now, so I’m going to take a step out in faith and trust that there are families out there interested in documenting real, meaningful memories of their family.  

    So I asked, why documentary photography?  The answer is because it’s capturing your real life, as you know it now.  I’m not necessarily focused so much on how meaningful these pictures will be to you right now… I’m focused on how important they will be 20, 30, 50 years down the road… When your grandchildren are looking at the photo album from this session and seeing an actual piece of their family’s history.  They will see their loved ones and what their life looked like.  They may see toys that have become antiques, a house that may have been sold a long time ago, or maybe even members of their family that aren’t with them anymore.  Documentary photography is a way to preserve your family’s history for years to come… to pass on a piece of your story to future generations and to evoke real emotions when they think back on the memories captures in the pictures.  

    If you take anything away from this post… I hope that you realize how important it is to capture real moments from your daily life.  No matter how messy, chaotic, or imperfect it may seem, it’s usually those memories we look back on with fondness.  I may not be the photographer for you, or you may feel a little bit comfortable with this whole idea… and that’s okay!  Go ahead and grab your iPhone and take some pictures each day.. Document your life!  I’m pretty certain you’ll be happy you did it one day.  :)  


Whether you want me to document a piece of your life or you want to start doing it on your own, this article is a great way to learn more about documentary photography… Check it out!   

Kelly Lovan3 Comments