I love this portrait of my mother holding my sister. It’s a beautiful, old, sepia-toned print — the type of thing we don’t see much of nowadays. But this image is precious for other, more important, reasons. You see, by the time my brother and I came along, my mom had stopped having formal portrait sessions done. I’m not sure why. Certainly, my parents had more disposable income by then to afford going to a portrait studio — they weren’t getting by on my dad’s Army pay anymore. Perhaps life just got too busy, with children going off to school and infants at home.
Whatever the reasons, though, we have no companion pieces to this portrait — not of my mom with each of her other children individually, nor of her with all of us together, or of the whole family with mom and dad. My mother was almost 35 when I was born. I don’t have clear memories of my youth until the age of 5, so the only way I remember my mother being was as a middle aged and older woman. In this portrait, though, she was still in her 20’s. It gives me a view of a young woman, a young mother, happy, aglow, looking out on her future — a time before worries and struggle and age and illness took their toll. My mom passed away quite a number of years ago. I wonder if she knows how much I treasure this photograph of her.
We can always find excuses not to have a formal portrait done. “It has been crazy busy at work;” “It’s hard to coordinate the kids’ schedules with all the after school activities they’re in;” “I want to lose 10 pounds before I have a photograph taken;” “I really need to have my hair cut first” … We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to make things look “perfect.” As much as I appreciate the beauty of a formal, posed portrait, I get even more enjoyment out of photographing families in their candid moments, when they’re enjoying each other’s company. If I can capture the nature of a relationship, and not just the way people are dressed or how they look, then I’ve succeeded in creating a portrait with real meaning. And if I can design a beautiful piece of artwork that someone can hang on their wall or hold in their hands and treasure in years to come, then I’ve created something of real value.