Defining “Momentous” (and Moment.us) Portrait Photography
1 Aug 2011
In the last week, I’ve been struggling with issues related to motivation and focus. I’ve been itching to take photos, but have been waiting for the perfect moments to come along. So I was left waiting. Why? What was I expecting to see happen? This led me to start thinking about the definition of “momentous” and, consequently, my definition for Moment.us.
One of the challenges in naming my business was finding a name that reflects what I aim to achieve. So I tossed ideas and words around like pebbles on the beach—some appeared to be of value or interest, some were simply items stumbled upon in the detritus—until I started to focus in on the idea of “moments”. That is, after all, what I aim to document. Photographers get hired for the big stuff—weddings, new births—without too much difficulty because everyone recognises these life events as being momentous occasions. But what about all of the other smaller, less spectacular moments—are they any less significant just because they didn’t involve a name change or a new life? Do those moments not deserve the same attention to detail? I find that, when looking at a photo, whether it’s of a wedding, a birth or a family portrait, most people want to be able to say “That is so ‘us’”. They want a photograph that represents who they are in that moment in time; they want a photo that represents “a moment of ‘us’.” That is the whole point of having photographs–to document lives as individual snapshots in history; to depict the never-ending march of change through our lives.
When I decided to start telling people to make their lives “Moment.us” occasions, I realised that I’d better know for myself what those occasions might be. I turned to the internet for a starting point and found that Dictionary.com defines “momentous” as being “of great or far-reaching importance or consequence.” According to Merriam Webster, it means “important; consequential.” These two definitions helped me to solidify what it is that I am aiming to accomplish.
In a “credit crunch culture”, it is essential to my work that prospective clients understand the value of photography and are willing to invest in documenting their lives. In a world where everyone and their uncle has access to a “fancy” camera, what makes an occasion special enough to hire someone else to photograph you? What, in this day and age, qualifies as “momentous” photography?
Weddings are perhaps one of the single most obvious momentous life events. With cameras attached to almost every pair of hands, is there anything that happens at a wedding that DOESN’T get photographed? That being said, the photos that I have most enjoyed from my own wedding are not the posed ones but the candids that captured a quiet (or raucous!) moment between our guests or myself and my husband: greeting my friends’ children after the ceremony; kicking our heels up on the dance floor with friends who had travelled great distances to join us; friends dancing with my husband’s grandmother. It’s often these other, perhaps quietly “momentous” occasions in our families’ lives that sometimes get downplayed.
Creating a new family is an exciting time. I have worked with parents who have struggled to conceive, parents who thought they’d never conceive and parents who conceived so easily they were still pleasantly surprised by their good fortune. Since showing photographs from maternity sessions to various people, one of the recurring questions I’ve had to answer is “Why would you want photos of that?” Pregnancy is a time of change; it is, through its very purpose, an “important, consequential” moment in our lives. So why NOT photograph it? It’s a time when many women begin to feel lost or less than special—less than human, even. Why not take photos as a reminder of how truly gorgeous you are at this moment in your life? Even though you may feel like you’ve got bags under your eyes that hang down to your knees, it’s important to realise that the rest of the world is seeing you as a beautiful, glowing mother-to-be.
The pregnancy progresses, the new baby arrives and the world is filled with wonder. Momentous occasions begin happening every single day: baby’s first smiles, giggles, toe-sucking efforts, attempts at sitting up, cutting the first teeth and, eventually, taking first steps. Quiet times with Mom/Dad/Grandma/Grandpa—they’re all so spectacularly momentous in each person’s eyes. Narrowing down these moments of “far-reaching importance” may seem almost impossible, rather than hard to pinpoint.
Children grow older, personalities develop, life takes hold, and your own definition of “family” is formed. “Family” has a wide variety of meanings. As such, the way that any particular representation of a family is captured depends on the interpretation of that word and its associated ideas. Once children age, the “firsts” are no longer so frequent and are often more subtle and harder to define. More often than not, what I’m seeing is that a “momentous” family photo represents not a special achievement, but a time in your life where your family is a cohesive, connected unit. This might be during a period when you have excitable youngsters, or a house full of teenagers; it could be a summer before a child leaves for university or a major travelling experience; it could be the arrival of a new grandchild who will continue that cycle. Coming from a family with four kids—with one in Toronto and, up until recently, one in London England—it has often been a challenge for my own family to get photographs of all six (or now, nine) of us together more than once or twice a year; sometimes a momentous occasion is simply the fact that you were able to get everyone together in the same room to share some smiles and laughter.
There is a time in life when the momentous occasions are easy to define and obvious to the world. However, it’s easy to forget that those special moments continue to happen throughout our lives, not just when a little one is figuring out how our world works.