My mom used to spend about 60 per cent of any given family vacation looking through a view-finder, begging my little brothers and me to please, PLEASE stop making those faces and smile. She’d have a heck of a time wrangling the three of us into a photo in front of this historic church or that shimmering lake or this very very very large tree.
We’d whine. Posing for pictures was not our priority! Couldn’t she see the cliff over there whose sides we could be scaling? Or all those crabs scuttling across the sand that we could be catching? The pretty lake will pose for you, Mom, we’ll be over here, excavating pirate treasure. And seagull bones.
Of course… eventually we would have to give up, queue up and bare our teeth. In the olden days, we’d wait, smiles slipping as she fiddled with the manual focus on her Minolta. A film camera. With varying degrees of patience she’d tell us we were what made her photos special. The lake was nice – but it was us, with our weird 90s clothes and braces (mine) and perpetual grape juice moustaches (my brothers’) who made the photo different from a bizillion other touristy snapshots other visitors had taken. Plus I suspect she was forever on the hunt for a new picture to put in the frame on her desk, what with us constantly getting older.
The lesson stuck with me: people make photos.
(Though my brothers and I still only grudgingly pose for the camera… old habits, I guess)
Now that I’m not the braces-faced child of my mother’s extensive photo collection I spend much of my time behind my own camera. And even in the most beautiful of settings where the shape of the clouds or the rising sun or a rock formation could easily carry the photo, I find my lens aiming for faces. Bodies. People.
Because it’s the photos containing evidence of human reaction that always grab my brain later when I’m sifting through the files.
Take this photo by and of my cousin Theresa Frendo. The “epic sun rays” could catch anyone’s eye on their own. But she walks into the frame, head up, presumably gazing as intently at the light as we are. She looks exultant. Or maybe she’s just running. In any case, there is emotion in her body language – something a viewer can connect with.
It seems obvious that people make compelling subjects. But sometimes, if I’m somewhere postcardesque like Newfoundland I can snap dozens of grassy, rocky landscapes before I realize there is something “meh” about them. Sometimes it takes my little brother bombing my attempted landscape (below) for me to tear my eyes away from the ridiculously green grass and remember that I am among people who all need profile pictures for various social media platforms and I really ought to be taking their photographs. (Thank you, rarely used autofocus for making this pic possible.)
Don’t get me wrong, I am partial to a nice, uninterrupted vista myself – and they make excellent desktop backgrounds – but the photos I am proud of, the ones that make me say “hey Mom, what do you think of this one?” always have folks in them.
As do all the pictures my mother still takes. Though now she only spends about 30 per cent of any given vacay looking through the view finder.
She has autofocus now.