The Vanishing Woman

No, I haven’t become a ghost – not yet anyway. But a glance at my absence in my Facebook albums might beg the question: Where have I gone?  Where are any recent pictures of me?   The long answer is: I am not a teen, over-indulging is self pics.  I am not a twenty-something documenting travels and fun times for show and tell.  I am a single mom in my mid-thirties, and my face seems to have become but a distant memory … photographically speaking of course!  It’s been replaced by my little dopple-gangers; their firsts, their friends, their fun.

Long gone are the party and travel pics featuring yours truly. I now view my life through the lens of my children’s growth and explorations.

B. had a project due at daycare last month.  A family pic at the centre of a cardboard flower.  I flipped through our vacation and summer photos searching for one with the 3 of us in it, and came up empty handed.  Nada.  Not one. It’s like the french expression says “The poorly shod shoemaker.”

It’s not like I don’t like having my picture taken.  I’m having some portraits taken this week actually.  I guess the truth of the matter is, whenever I am around, others put their cameras away.  And it’s not like it’s easy to pass off a clunky Mark II to a complete stranger and say “Can you take our pic?” It’s a giant, heavy, intimidating-looking beast that most wouldn’t be comfortable taking on.  Maybe I have just gotten lazy about it?  On a 3 (childless) trips to NYC this summer I brought it once, and came back with nary and shot of myself or of my host.  Huh?  What happened to the girl who was obsessed with preserving it all for posterity?  What happened to the keener who had always wanted to prove where she had been and with whom?

I think a few things have happened… For one, with the arrival of kids, my focus, literally has shifted from myself to them.  It’s easy to snap a 100 frames and not realize you didn’t get one with yourself in it because, really, you ARE there.  Ansel Adams described it best when he said, “There are always 2 people in every picture:  the photographer and viewer.”  So in that sense, I am always present.  Present in the photo’s style, present in it’s technical input and output.  But if this was a game of “Where’s Carla”, I am nowhere to be found.

Notoriously absent from this picture is … me! A clear and distinct change of behaviour has emerged in my 30s… I don’t need to prove I was there by being IN the pic. I TOOK the pic, and that’s enough!

I’ve also reached a point in my life where I don’t need to prove anything to anyone but myself.  And if that’s true, I know that I was there, who I was with and what I did… So why do I need to document it?  During my 20s I can say that almost every picture that came out of my point and shoot had my face in it.  It was like I was so conscious of time ticking by that I wanted to preserve it all.  And flipping through the albums that contain all those photos, I am glad I did.  I think as we age, we love to look back and see how we changed, grew and came into the person we are today.  And even if our Facebook profile page is an Ode to Self, it is a different self that I choose to put out there.  It’s my version of me looking out, that I choose to show to others looking in.

Some of it might also have to do with the fact that I have no partner, no one else to pick up the picture taking slack when I put my camera down and become available for a pic.  It doesn’t feel like anyone is necessarily missing in a photo that contains both my kids, the way it might had I taken it of my kids and a partner.  No one walking by me ever says “Hey, jump into the pic, I’ll take one of the whole family.”  My missing face doesn’t create an obvious hole in the photo.

A rare family portrait… and it’s one that I will treasure forever. Snuggling in bed with my babies is one of the things I enjoy most about motherhood. Who cares if we look our best? This is Memory in the Raw, and I know that when I look back on this photo in the years to come, I will remember their soft skin, warm breath and the feeling of their feet in my face. 🙂

It’s a lot of things combined, and most of the time, it’s neither here nor there.  But I would like my kids to look back on their childhood pics and remember me as they knew me growing up.  I always find it stunning to realize I have known my mother since she was in her 20s.  I’d like my kids to do the same for me and be able to say “Wow, look how ‘young’ you were when we were small…”  Now that cell phones can not only take great pics, but also turn the viewfinder towards the photographer, there are no more excuses.  I really must get on that … Halloween is coming up after all.  A perfect time for the Vanishing Woman to reappear.  Waa-ha-ha-haaaaa! xo


Stroll Down Memory Lane

What was once a random pic taken during my last night in Australia, turned out to be a part of a group of pictures I used to inspire myself and help me through a depression.

Last year, in the midst of a terrible depression (is there any other kind?), I decided to post an album on Facebook called “Stroll Down Memory Lane”.  The goal was to remind myself that I hadn’t always been stuck in limbo.  I had once been in charge of my life and done amazing things and been to amazing places.  I was trying to inspire hope in myself that I would be part of “amazing” again…  Amidst these photos are 2 of my favourites that include an ex-boyfriend from my time in Australia.

This Tuesday I received a Facebook inbox from him: “hi babe, it’s been too many years horizon chaser!!! impressive xx”   12 years to be exact, a whole lifetime ago.  But just because it has been a lifetime, doesn’t mean it no longer belongs to my life.  The comment brought a smile to my face: Here was a person who not only remembered me fondly, but who specifically remembered my travel alter ego, horizonchaser.  Considering in actuality we parted on terse terms, it was me who was impressed with his recollection, and it made me feel good.
Life bring us to so many places. Some are physical destinations we choose and plot out on a map.  Others are within ourselves.  I’ve known the bright sun and warm ocean of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, and some of the very darkest corners of isolation and poverty.  I’ve known the highs of career success, and the dingiest of hotel rooms in the mountains of Serbia.  And they are all part of me. They have all given me a gift of some kind.  But their meanings have changed as I moved through them, passed them and on with life.  What I have never stopped to consider is the impact that I have left on the people I have met and places I have been.  I am quick to be grateful for all life’s lessons, negative and positive – but it is hard to know what legacy I have left with others, especially in times of transition like travel or depression.

From important to meaningless or vice versa, the meanings of photographs change over time. They can go from happy memories, to painful reminders, to mile markers, to inspirational.

The message I received this week was a little look through that keyhole.  I can’t see the whole picture, what impact I have had on this person’s path, but it lets me see that I had enough of one to leave a distinct imprint during the time we walked it together.  All I had to show for it until now was one-sided:  2 pics and my own sentimentality of that time.  And it’s true, photographs can truly capture the essence of not only a moment is time, but an era in a lifetime.  I can use this photo to represent my relationship with him, my job as a bartender, my life as a backpacker in Oz, the relationships I have carved during my travels, my drive to see and explore the world or the me who took control of her destiny and booked plane tickets all over the globe for a decade.  I can make it as big or small as I like, because it belongs to my life and me. Tuesday made me realize that it also belonged to him.  How big or small he has made it, or will make of it in the future is up to him. So I clicked tag and shared.
WHATEVER they are worth, they are a testament to youth, beauty and strength and a me I use to be.  They represent a connection to a time and place that I am grateful for.  And regardless of it’s meaning, or lack thereof, to anyone else in the picture, I am happy to have them (red eye and all) as part of my life’s collection of photographs, experiences and memories. xo

6 Tips For Better School Pics

Hunter’s mother put a lot of thought into her little man’s outfit. Although untraditional, how cute is he?! A great memory for sure!

Tomorrow I have a great little shoot at a daycare. So I thought that, with the kiddies back in school, I would put together a list of quick tips to get your little darlings all shined up and spiffy for picture day…

1) Mark the day on your calendar! Seems so obvious, but DOH! with busy schedules it’s easy to forget, so make sure to put a big gold star beside the date!
2) Prepare clothes the night before. Get your child’s opinion. These pics are milestone markers and it’s always neat to look back at what style your kid was into at that point in their lives.
* Moms and Dads of litte girls: DO NOT choose short dresses or skirts. Even if they are wearing tights. There is a good chance that your child will be posed on a chair (individually or in the group photo) and often their legs are not crossed. It’s always a shame to have a school pic come back with a view up the skirt.
3) Hair: No matter what type of hair your child has, make sure you send them with a style that will last till their picture is taken. This can be especially tricky if they wear hats to school, or have recess before. Pack a little brush or comb for those with long hair, left loose.
4) Beauty is in the detail. Don’t forget matching or complimentary accessories like head bands and earrings.
5) Remember to remove things like temporary tattoos, as they show up in pictures looking like dirty spots.
6) Engage. Particularly younger ones who are still fascinated with the idea of Mom and Dad at their age. Explain picture day, the process and why it’s important that they give the photographer their best smile. Pull out your school pics and share them with your kids. What a great bedtime “storybook” to read before picture day!

That was me in grades 5 and 12. Never underestimate the emotional value of the simple school pic! The little butterfly frame sat on my grandmothers TV from 1986 till 2005.

When you get your package don’t forget to:
1) Write the year (if it’s not printed on the front).
2) Write down teacher and classmate names on the back right away.
3) Have your kids “autograph” the back of their photos before giving them to friends and relatives. It’s another neat way of seeing their growth.

So, that’s it! Even though, as a photographer, I have hundreds of beautiful portraits of my kids, I still love school picture day and always buy a package no matter how they turn out. So, shine ’em up and send ’em off ready for their close up. And don’t forget to remind them to say “Cheeeeee-se”! xo

Ordinary magic

Annual family activities, such as apple picking, are picture perfect opportunities … Make sure you don’t miss out on the fun because you’re too busy capturing the moment!

Today turned out to be our annual pilgrimage to the apple orchard. I didn’t know it when I woke up this morning, but that’s what it turned out to be. The day was gorgeous and a friend invited us to join. So after a less than motivated start to a Sunday morning (read: post Saturday-evening-out blues) we were off to pick apples in our rubber boots. I love the opportunity that each year grants for me to take photos at the same place, and to use the pics as a kind of flip book through which to watch my children as they grow… not to mention unlimited crisp and juicy apples to munch on as we get the “work” done. As a single parent of 2 young girls, it’s complicated to keep your children safe as they step up the ladder to reach for fruit, put the picked apple into the bucket, keep an eye out that kid number 2 doesn’t wander off, and catch all those precious moments with your camera – all the while trying to sneak in a bite of the aforementioned apples. It’s epic circus juggling and none to graceful to watch, I am sure, but the photos that come from this annual ritual are rich in vibrance and are the stuff of cherished memories. Not lugging the camera around isn’t an option.

Except this year, because it was spur of the moment, I hadn’t thought to put my Mark IIs enormous battery to charge in preparation. My next gig is 2 days from now – plenty of time to charge before then. So, much to my chagrin, after shooting about 35 pics, my camera battery died. Determined to continue catching the action, I took out my iPhone, which quickly gave me the dismal message that I had only 10% of battery life left. I could charge it in the car on the way home, but that wouldn’t help me here, so after a few pictures, it died too and I put it away.

Photographs of annual outings become treasured keepsakes.  Make sure to take the time to ‘live’ those moments as they happen!

And then, something extraordinarily ordinary happened. I began to see my children. But I mean, really see them. It seems ironic, as looking is ALL I do through my lens. Except … there was no more process going on in my head to distract me. No mental check lists of light, angle, expression, meter reading or flash compensation. No tic tic tic of the aperture wheel turning under my thumb, or thunk of the shutter being depressed. Nothing. Just my eyes on my kids and the sun on my back and a peaceful feeling of magic in the ordinary. As I sat in the petting zoo area for an hour, watching my children play and interact with people and animals, I realized all I missed when I was busy capturing “memories”. The most obvious being everything in my peripheral vision. But there was more… Noticing the smells, the noise, the feeling of the sun and wind on my face. I saw my oldest make friends with a baby and her mother and watched her kindness towards the little girl. I saw my youngest painstakingly picking up pieces of dried corn and feeding them, tiny piece by tiny piece, to greedy goats.   As I saw her hugging, yes literally hugging these goats around their necks through the fence, I thought: WOW, that would be an amazing pic!  But then I got it. Yes, I had missed the shot, but had my camera not been dead, I would have missed it all.  Because putting a camera up to your face is a barrier to living in the moment.  I believe it’s something seasoned travellers come to know: You can’t live it while you are busy capturing it.  Your reality become the capture, not the moment lived. And life is nothing if not a journey.  Don’t get me wrong.  My camera is like my 3rd eye, a vital part of my identity. It defines me, as much as it captures others.  But today, I say thank you to my dead battery, because it made me realize that coming out to the orchard every year is not so much about the making of memories as it is about living life in the now.  So carpe diem it up folks.  No better time than Fall to to seize the apple and the day!  xo


The Great Backyard Shoot.

Necessary ingredients: outdoors, kid(s) and a camera.  Got them all?  Let’s go!

First things first. You absolutely need your flash, even outdoors in the middle of summer.  ESPECIALLY outdoors in the middle of summer.  If it’s anytime past 9am or before 8pm in full summer sun, under eye shadow will be dark – not to mention the squinty eyes above those dark shadows.  It also puts a catch light or twinkle in their eyes, really bringing them to life.  So put your kids in the shade and pop on (or out) that flash!