Remembering As I continue to document the life of my family, I often think about what it’s all for. Photography is a creative outlet and I use it to communicate with a single image what is meaningful to me, but I also know that there’s something probably even more important: I am leaving behind documentation that when pieced together is nearly the entire story of my children’s lives. In that light, I know that every moment I capture is a gift, for me, for them and for generations to follow.
Perhaps it’s stating the obvious, but motherhood has completely transformed me, not only as woman, but as a photographer.
Before I had kids, my photographic work was work, done for other people and for a paycheck. The camera stayed in the bag as I lived my everyday life. When the kids came, the camera came out and I started to capture the kinds of moments I was capturing for my clients, only now for myself. I began to tell my own story.
With my first daughter, I shot portrait after portrait. Facial expressions, props, headshots and full-lengths, I was using all the same techniques I had mastered for my clients, which made sense—it’s what I did. It wasn’t until my second daughter was born that my photography truly became mine.
Fragile, foggy, exhausted, I lifted my lens like a magnifying glass, hyper-focused on the most heartbreakingly miraculous glimmers of beauty that were sprinkled about in my everyday life: my daughter’s impossibly long eyelashes, light dancing on the bath water, the simple yet poetic shape of a cereal bowl, the complicated and tender connection between sisters.
I needed to see and appreciate those small, often overlooked details to get me through the days, to help me stay grounded and grateful, and to help keep me stay connected to the joy of motherhood. Photography became more than a tool to document my life, it was my way of seeing what was real and true.
Looking through the hundreds of images I captured from that time on, I can see the progression of my children’s lives, of course, but I also see the progression of my own creative vision. My work began to take on a different quality.
Besides the countless shots of my daughters’ shining faces, I began capturing stories of fleeting moments in the details of our routines, activities, connections, affections, locations, milestones: Everything became a part of the narrative. This pe
rspective allowed me to be more present in my own life and the life of my family, because I was noticing—and appreciating—what I may have overlooked before. And slowly but surely, everything around me became photo-worthy.
In changing what I captured with my camera, a spectrum of subject matter ranging from my kids to a coffee mug, I also changed how I captured it. My photography began to improve. Without only facial expression to tell the story, I needed other ways to evoke emotion.
I started paying closer attention to everything around me. Light became my most important creative ally, which then brought with it shadow. And there was intuition and timing, shape and color, and how it all could play together in a single shot composed within a small rectangle frame. I rarely put my camera away as my viewfinder became my canvas and everything was art. My way of seeing the world became a way of being in the world and photography became an extension of who I was, and now still, who I am.
Photography itself is now a constant companion, a trusted creative tool, and a way for me to elevate the everyday into something transcendent. This is how I imagine photography becoming our own: when we not only use it, but when we need it to tell our stories, and when we cannot imagine our life without it.
Tracey Clark is the founder of Shutter Sisters (shuttersisters.com), whose work is featured in our monthly column, Point of Focus. Her book, Elevate The Everyday: A Photographic Guide to Picturing Motherhood, is available from Focal Press. Visit her website at traceyclark.com.