Documentary Photography

If you don't know I am a sports photographer and I photograph athletes in the sport of weightlifting.  The images created in the sport has shaped my approach and passion as a photographer.   I have the privilege of following weightlifters from the beginning of their warm-up to the final lift on competition day.  I love that the images are driven from the circumstances surrounding the athletes. As things unfold, I am there to capture it.  

Recently I posted this photo below and someone commented: "These types of photos are my favorite!!!"  I have started to become obsessed with wanting to know why people are drawn to certain images.  What did the image remind them of?  What is the personal connection?


I started thinking, "If the work I do as a sports photographer can trigger certain feelings and memories, how can I duplicate the same with family photos?"  As you could imagine, photo sessions where I manipulate the subject and scene is quite opposite of what I am use to.  I recognized this disconnect and it left me uninspired.  

What is this...this approach to photographing weightlifters that I enjoy doing so much?  After some research I came across a term called documentary photography.  While there still seems to be some discrepancy over the definition, it seemed that documentary photography and I would be a better match when it comes to the other things I photograph.  

But I wanted to test it out.  I put out a post to see who would volunteer their home and time to for a free family photo session.  Is it possible to approach a family photo session the way I would approach photographing a weightlifter?  I would be completely hands off and photograph moments as they occur.  


Joy volunteered and welcomed me to her home. She warned me that her house was a mess.  I responded with, "Leave it."  

I understand why she gave me a heads up.  Not all mothers are nice.  Once my daughter had a playdate and it was scheduled for when I got home from work.  The playdate was to be at my house and the thought of having a midweek playdate gave my severe anxiety.  That morning when I left to work, I had left the house a mess.

The mother entered my home, scanned the pile of mail, the dishes in the sink, my dirty coffee pot from the morning and she could barely get these words out, "Your house is cute."  Why did I feel like shit? But most importantly, why do parents put this pressure on themselves? 

With Joy's permission, I photographed that twilight hour when you walk in the door with your kids, and dinner needs to be made.  If you are a working parent, you know exactly what I am talking about.  

During the time there, I stayed out of the way and just started taking pictures.  In between the controlled chaos, were sweet, sweet moments between mother and child as well as much needed breaks away from the kids.


Joy really did me a favor and was so thankful for allowing me in her home.  I didn't think much of the 2 hours there.  I thought, a few photos would be shared, and I would have a better sense of perhaps how I want to approach future family photo sessions.  

Later that night I received a message from Joy.  "I almost cancelled... I've been embarrassed for people to see how I live...  I'm glad I didn't cancel.  I think this is the first step to recovery for me."

Before I left, Joy shared some personal things about her life.  She talked about how she wanted to become a dancer when she was younger, how much she loves her current job and sometimes it is so stressful to be a mother and wife.  She has zero social life and feeling alone most days.  


I wonder what other parents will think of when they see these images.  I drove home thinking about how much I love my children,  despite my dirty dishes and mail that is piling up. lol. Thank you Joy for these moments and I'm sure other parents thank you as well since none of us have it figured it out as parents.  I hope for them, the photos will help with whatever "recovery" they need in life.  

We are not perfect and that it very much okay.