This time last year, I was fighting with my anxiety over leaving my kids for 2.5 weeks & flying over to the Pacific North West in the USA to attend a week-long workshop with Sam Abell(yeah, I realise there’s an extra 1.5 weeks to account for there – include staying with friends, family sessions & some time in Seattle!). Amongst worrying about missing the kids(spoiler alert: I didn’t! Gah!), my biggest worry was totally failing at this workshop. Yeah, I know that doesn’t make sense(how do you fail a workshop?), but let me explain. Sam Abell is one of my top 3 photographers(the other two are William Eggleston & Alex Webb. The list has remained fairly steady for the last few), so I was totally worried that he would take one look at my work, declare that it totally sucked & that I shouldn’t bother picking up a camera ever again. The other worry was that I would meet him & he would be a total douche bag & that would just ruin life for me in general. Well, get ready for a shit load of spoiler alerts.

First up, let me explain why it has taken me so long to write something about my time with Sam(you like what I did there? Sam my buddy, my pal!). The number one reason that I can not escape & won’t even attempt to lie about – I’m a procrastinator. Number two? I don’t know what to say about it. I mean, how the hell could I put in to words what I learned from Sam & just the whole experience? Sure, I could tell you what we did during the week-long workshop, but that wouldn’t really explain much at all. We would go to class in the morning, Sam would talk to us about stuff, then in the afternoon, he would set us an assignment, we would go out to shoot it, come home, cull & edit, shower, sleep, repeat. The magic was Sam – the stories he told us, the way he explained things, the experiences he shared, the laughs we had, the way he thoughtfully gave you the most constructive of criticism without ever making you feel like shit. I’d need to talk to you using lots of hand gestures over a few glasses of wine to really explain just what an experience it was.

And Sam, he is a funny guy! And smart, & gracious & knowledgeable & respectful & talented & an amazing storyteller & I could go on & on forever. We each got to spend some one on one time with Sam. I showed him my work & talked about the projects I had in mind. He gave me encouragement & advice. We bonded over Australia(he spent a lot of time here on assignment for National Geographic & he’s a fan of us!). He is just awesome. We finished up the week with a lovely dinner altogether. And somehow at some point, Sam & I began singing ‘I Still Call Australia Home.’ By the time we got to the ferry, Sam had decided that we were going to make a video clip of us singing it as the ferry pulled out of Port Townsend, pretending we were leaving Australia. I was getting over a cold & sounded ridiculous. But it was hilarious. And something I will never ever forget.

So, you know that thing people ask you? If you could have dinner with anyone at all, living or dead, who would it be? My person would be Sam Abell. Even though I have already had dinner with him, I’d take every chance I could get to do it again.

 

 

You want to see the clip of us singing out of key, right? Yeah, I knew you would. You can find it here(make sure you don’t have your volume turned up too loud!).

 

Thanks to Erika for this photo & the video footage.

And so year two of Sham of the Perfect is done. Another year of documenting real life in a family – all the mess, the crazy, the quiet. The life. Not every photo is perfect or amazing. Some are good. Some are just shit. Some didn’t work out the way I wanted them to. But that’s the thing with expectations, right? They seem to fuck up everything.

The beauty of this project is in the remembering. Or maybe not that so much as at the reminder that through another 12 months of mundane every day reality, another year where I honestly couldn’t tell you what I did two days before(at any point of the year), that these photos give me a jolt. That through all the boring shit, we lived.

And as if that wasn’t enough, this project gives me so much more. It gives me the opportunity to work with a group of amazing women, it gave me friendships like no other, it gave me the opportunity to travel overseas where I got to spend time learning & laughing with two of my photography besties, Erika & Lacey, in the flesh & I got to hug Jess while I was at it too(it’s amazing because we live on the opposite sides of the world to each other)! It gave me the opportunity to have my work seen all over the world, thanks to our features in the Huffington Post(which went insane!), Kidspot, Women’s Day & BabyCenter just to name a few. And it made people see that perfection in parenting & families is the biggest load of shit that anyone ever tried to shove down our throats. Because in the end, we are all just people – from the oldest to the youngest, we are flawed & imperfect. We are all full of light & dark, calm & chaos & no one has the bloody right to try & stuff us into some stupid little box full of some outdated notion of how life is supposed to be.

 

 

You can find 2015s collection here.

 

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You are so boring. You, your husband, your kids. Mind-numblingly boring. All you do is sit around all day in your shitty, messy house, watching TV all day while your kids stare at their iPads. Why on Earth would you pay a photographer to come to your house to photograph you all? Because that statement there, is bullshit.

The other day, I was chatting to some friends & they mentioned a post that they saw in a Facebook photography group in which a photographer was having a rant about people saying they would love a documentary session but they are too boring. She then went on to say that if these people were not happy with their lives, that they should change it! They should organise family activities, re-decorate their homes, get a new wardrobe. Then they will be happy & not so boring. You know what fell out of my mouth when I read it? What a fucking douche! And then, the anger rose up. I felt like Bruce Banner just as he starts turning into the Incredible Hulk. I got all hot & angry. That post just got under my skin. And to top it off, a slew of photographers agreed. Now, let me say, that’s all cool with me. The statement in itself, doesn’t bother me. Except it was in a group for documentary photographers. Or, supposedly(is this where I should say ‘allegedly instead?’) documentary photographers.

 

mum on couch with phone while kids climb on her

 

Now, I’m sorry, but I don’t agree. At all. I read that post a few weeks ago & to be honest with you, it has me pretty annoyed. Actually in the annoyed-heading-to-livid category. I thought I would just get over it, but I can’t. As documentary photographers, we are the ones to show these people that they are not boring. Documentary photography is not about activities & the state of someone’s house. It is about observing life. It is about seeing the story. People will use that excuse/comment about being ‘too boring’ for two reasons – they don’t want a documentary session or they need someone to show them that they are enough as they are. A few months ago, I was privileged to spend a week with Sam Abell, an amazing documentary photographer. He told the group of us that ‘documentary photographers are those that believe that the world is enough as it is.’ That there, is it. People shouldn’t be ‘art directing’ their lives for photo opportunities. People shouldn’t be changing their lives to fit into someone else’s version of what life should be like. That’s lifestyle photography – & there is nothing wrong with that, it’s just one of many different styles of photography out there. It is not our jobs to judge & make assumptions. That’s not our place. Our place is to document. To show the connections as people go through their lives. It is up to documentary photographers to take the photos of someones normal, everyday & show them what they don’t see because they are in the thick of it, living that life. Being a normal family is not boring.

 

girl crying on trampoline

 

Be as fucking boring as you damn well please. Because I tell you what, from an outsider, when I come to your home, I’m not seeing that. I’m seeing the way you interact together, the little brush of the fingers against an arm, that face your kid pulls as a three year old, the current phase your tween-ager is going through, those moments that aren’t seen by you because you are busy wiping a bum or stopping a fight or catching your breath. I’m not going to tell you it’s about ‘seeing the beauty in your everyday’ either, because, while I may sometimes be guilty of using that phrase, the truth is that it makes me vomit in my mouth a little. It’s just about seeing & being seen. And because of that, documentary sessions are absolutely not for everyone, because it is really hard & brave to be seen.

By the way, I’ve not yet met a family that is boring. None of the families that I have photographed so far have been exceptional in the way that we are told people need to be exceptional – they don’t have fancy cars or homes, they don’t do amazing activities with their kids, they’re not ‘put-together’ in a way that someone else has told them to be. They are all different, & normal in their own ways. And to me, that is endlessly interesting.

Spring school holidays rolled around at the end of September & to be honest with you, for the first time ever, I was dreading having all three kids home for two weeks. They had been driving me bat shit crazy in the weeks leading up to the break; constantly fighting & bickering, answering back & just being rude little beings. I really had to dig deep to not morph into the school holiday Grinch before they started.

I decided to focus on a mini project while I had them home. It was simple, I just wanted to document the two week break. But I didn’t want to put any pressure on myself with this(I have enough of that!) – I really do struggle to be both parent & photographer at the same  time. So, I decided that I was going to photograph only one scene a day & that will be it. I was also not going to restrict myself to using my DSLR, the iphone would do. The photos aren’t perfect or brilliant, but they are a record of our time. They helped me focus(no pun intended there!) & not get pulled down by any shitty tween attitude.

We didn’t do a lot of exciting stuff – we mainly hung out at home. I felt that we all needed  to take this time to recharge & that wasn’t going to happen if we were gallivanting around every day(and thankfully, my kids aren’t in the habit of declaring boredom). We visited the library, the beach(we had to take advantage of the sun when it appeared. It pissed down with rain about an hour after we left) & the Royal Melbourne Show(that’s my husbands deal, I am not a fan!). And yes, I made them all help with the Spring cleaning!

Here’s a sliver of our Spring break. I survived to tell the tale!

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family in the shower with little boy playing on the floorIn July, on the back of the Sham of the Perfect feature in the Huffington Post, I was tracked down by an editor at Kidspot for an interview. It was great to see that they had gone to so much trouble to find the ‘Aussie in the haystack’ & to then follow the rabbit hole down to my own website & loved my work. The way these things often go, is that the publisher selects the photos that accompany the piece. In this case, one of the photos they wanted to include was the one above, of my family in the shower. I was happy to provide it to them & actually found it refreshing that they would include that photo.

 

A few days after it was published, I received the message below, through the contact form on my website:

 

email from concerned person

When I finished reading it, I was taken aback. I mean, no one wants to read those words about a photograph of your own children. I read it again, & then came to the conclusion that I was going to treat this message as one of well-meaning ‘concern’. I’ll admit, in the past, I would have cracked the shits & wanted to shoot off a shitty reply, but this time, I took a deep breath, acknowledged it as concern(must be all that meditation & yoga, ha!) & put it aside. Or so I thought.

But it kind of stuck me, like a little splinter that you can’t quite get, no matter how much Vegemite(did you know it was good at drawing out splinters?) you put on it or how many times you get the tweezers out. So, I’m going to address it here because I would like for everyone to know my thoughts on this.

I am a Mum first & a photographer second. I take a fair few photos of my kids & in some of them, they are naked because, well, there are times in your life, hell, in your day, when you will be naked. As a photographer, when I take these photos, I’m thinking about what point I want to get a across. I’m looking at the moment, the composition, what I want to show. Or not show. As a Mum, that’s where I overlap – I look at what I do not want to show. This photo was one of my photos published as part of this year’s Sham of the Perfect project. It shows a scene that I knew wouldn’t last much longer as my eldest daughter is getting older. I wanted that moment, of my 3 kids, showering with their Dad, to be held, forever. When I was taking the photo, I was very conscious of making sure that no ‘bits’ were on view(look at that little metal shower bit & the steam, how great were they in preserving my son’s modesty!). When I went through all of the photos that I took of this scene, I was looking for composition, gesture & no visible ‘bits’. Bingo. This photo shows nothing more than what you would see if my kids were out in public at the beach.

As a mother, I am very conscious of what I put on the internet. In instances like this, I also check with my kids if they are ok about it. I also use this discretion when publishing photos of my clients children. The Mum in me is always sitting side-by-side with the photographer. I use my editing & selection process as a lesson for my kids. They love to sit with me while I go through my photos & I explain to them why I choose one & not the other & why I would share one photo & not the other. I talk them through my process & the ‘why’s’. I hope that this will be one of the things that help them navigate through their tween & teenagers years with the internet right there in their faces.

I am not naive, I am aware of horrible people doing horrible things. I’ve had my own experiences that to me are small scale compared to what horrible things others have endured. I once busted a man trying to ‘upskirt’ me on the tram, I’ve had a guy sit beside me on the train, while I was 35 weeks pregnant(with my eldest), & masturbate beside me. In both of these instances, I loudly called these men out. In both of these instances, I was on my way to work at my corporate job, wearing boring old business wear. I also once published a photo of myself, fully dressed, on my old personal blog commemorating being 36 weeks pregnant with my youngest. I received an email from a man telling me how beautiful he thought my belly was & how good it made him feel but that he would have really loved it if my belly was exposed. The thing is, arseholes are everywhere. We could be walking down the street & someone could take a photo of my kids. What am I going to do, hide them away at home forever with the windows covered & the doors sealed shut?

I’d love to be able to have people understand the difference between art & porn, but sadly, in this day & age, people link any sort of nudity is the latter, rather than the former. It does make me sad though, thinking about these ‘concerned’ people’, because I wonder what happened in their lives to make them jump to these conclusions right away. As a photographer, I know many other photographers that have been persecuted over innocent photographs. In my circles of photography friends, we are often discussing the point of when art is not art & how, as mothers & photographers, do we navigate these waters. I don’t believe that any of us think lightly of what photographs are ok to share. It’s two-fold, sad that we have to, but good that we do.

 

  • Marlene - I agree with you 100% Natasha. Unfortunately, yes there are some creeps out there and it’s sickening to think about what they might do with a photo of a naked or semi naked child. But as a fellow documentary photographer, we are artists and see the natural, innocent beauty in what we shoot and what we choose to show people. I love this image because I can relate to it so much! I’m sorry you had to go and explain yourself but also, Good on you for sticking with what you believe in. Love your work! XReplyCancel

  • Jenna - Natasha, I feel your pain! I wrote one of these posts a while ago when a photo of a naked kiddo butt on the beach was too much for some people in a photog group. It wasn’t my kid but a client’s, whom I checked with several times to make sure they’re ok with it being online. Keep making art <3ReplyCancel