Memories In The Making

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.

Moments In Motion
Capturing a fleeting moment in time means being at the whim of that moment. Anything might happen, and you have to be ready. When it comes to pictures of my children, laughter takes precedence over all else. In the case of this shot taken late one winter evening at the beach, spinning around with my daughter as I shot meant a lot of movement on her part, as well as mine. In the low light setting of the evening, the shutter had to drag a bit, which actually worked out to my advantage. This is a memory captured just as it happened, and exactly as I always want to remember it.

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.

Fully Engaged
When I’m documenting my children at play, I try to be "in it" with them, which often means being in the crossfire of all kinds of photography hazards: sand, water, paint, dirt, or in this case, bubbles. Positioning myself right at my daughter’s eye level, or as in this one, slightly lower offers a compelling perspective and for me, it’s worth the risk of a splash or two. Opting to convert shots like this to black-and-white removes any of the distractions that the colors create and leaves a classic, timeless shot of my daughter engaged in play.

Quintessential Details
There have been more tea parties in my life than I can count. Like with any of our children’s phases, just when it seems like it will never end, it does. It’s pictures like this that take me back to the days when her hands were small enough to hold this tiny tea set, and when she’d dress up in her princess dress whenever the occasion allowed. Soft light and a shallow depth of field worked well to distill this dreamy morning, one that looked so much like every morning during this sweet time in our lives.

Perhaps it was just a natural progression of my creativity that shifted my photographic vision. Or, maybe it was the time away from shooting portraits for clients. Or, maybe it was my age. It could have been any number of things, but above all else, I trace it back to the bout with depression I experienced in the early days of having my second child. It was through my daily struggle that I began to see things differently.

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.

In Context
Sometimes a memory is best captured within the context of the space or location. A mere detail of a moment like this couldn’t possibly tell the story as well as this kind of wider shot does. A documentary approach works to capture family life as it’s actually happening and in this case, the light in the kitchen illuminates my girls perfectly as they begin to help prepare a weekend meal for the family, aprons and all.

In Context
Shot from the opposite end of our galley kitchen, this early morning moment just had to include our dog who, along with my youngest daughter, is always up with the sun waiting on the first meal of the day. Like in the first kitchen shot, the light coming in through our sliding door makes it possible for me to capture our day with the natural light I love (and depend on).

The older my children get, the less they are at home, which means I’m left to my own devices when it comes to shooting photographic stories. I’ve had to begin to turn my lens toward the representative objects around me that tell stories of our life. Although I’d never miss a shot of one of my daughters enjoying birthday cake, this plate is a part of our annual tradition, so a photo like this tells part of our story that revolves around birthdays and other special occasions.

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.

A gesture like offering up freshly picked flowers from our backyard, will never be lost on me. These are the exact moments I want to carry with me forever. When framing this shot I wanted to get more than just the flowers: I included my daughter’s chin just enough to capture her new short haircut, and a little bare skin to remind me of the warm spring days we enjoy in California.

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.

Quite often it’s the most routine moments of our daily life that get overlooked in our photographs. When piano practice happens on a daily basis, you think you’ll never forget it. And yet, all too soon, you do. With the tiniest of subtle detail of her nail polish and the way her delicate hand rest gently on the keys, this shot captures the sweet symphony that is my daughter during these fleeting years.

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 (, 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

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