Real life stirs the mind | Documentary Family Photography


Real life. It stirs the mind and people’s curiosity. When we are faced with pictures of people’s actual real lives, we find them hard to ignore. They are intriguing, and our inner voyeur enjoys this snapshot into someone else’s life. The idea of ‘peeking’ into things.

Documentary photography, by it’s very nature, should interest us. Because it’s intensely and relentlessly about us. It portrays the roots of our cultures and our family values and it energises our subconscious.

Historically we have been conditioned to believe, by society, that clean, tidy houses, happy smiling faces and content looking children is what a perfect family should look like. So it makes sense that the out of control, chaotic, messy and at times unmannerly reality of our family lives can threaten the orderly status quo of what society has deemed perfect. We feel the need to ‘censor’ what doesn’t look pretty. Whether that is our physical bodies or our homes. Because we have been led to believe it doesn’t exist in the higher realms of societies strange etiquette. When actually, these moments and images reveal a richer and deeper story about who we are are. 

I believe these photo’s serve a much better purpose for you and your family for years to come, than appeasing societal norms. They feed a spiritual and intellectual purpose. They are allowing new ways of thinking and imagining to take place about how we look, how our homes look, how our lives look to everyone else. It is liberating us from old patterns of thinking what is ‘perfect’, ‘beautiful’, ‘acceptable’ and worthy to be hung our walls. 

I hope these images ignite the viewer’s sense of curiosity and mystery within their subconscious. I am not trying to offer a straightforward aesthetic experience, but rather attempting to produce a beautiful turbulence. Turning our preconceived notions of what daily family life looks like and allowing it into the public domain. The things is, life is so transient. I have just photographed someone with Alzheimers who I know will be gone, in their mind at least, in a few months. So much of it is lengthening. Lengthening the time, the moments, the memories. The quite literal short time frame of life is so unbelievably precious, therefore preserving these memories and moments is not only nice to do, it’s vital. 

Documentary has the power to cross social boundaries of what is deemed polite, orderly and beautiful and confronts us with images that are sad, revealing, gritty, but also incredibly inspiring and uplifting. And REAL.

If we have learned anything in the last few decades, it’s surely that it’s OK to show yourself and who you are entirely. Be vulnerable, be candid, wear your heart on your sleeve. Whatever are the reasons for us to still resist the idea of having our actual real lives photographed, we must then ask the deeper questions of why that scares us. What are we afraid of? Whatever the reasons and resistances, we must break out of the moulds, the societal norms, the imagery that we think people want to see or how people want us to be represented. And be us. 

And here is a little slideshow of my best documentary family work this summer, to hopefully, represent exactly that.

jess cheethamComment