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.
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.
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.