Thursday, 25 October 2018

6 and 7 out of 100 - Photos as Family History

6 and 7 - those are my numbers. Years ago my parents separated our family photos and created albums for my sister, my brother and I. They are photos of our childhood. I did a little experiment this morning and looked through to see how many photos I had of myself with my parents. Out of the entire album of around 100 photos, I found 6 photos of me and my mom and 7 with my dad and I. There were none (in my album at least) of all 5 of us and only one of both my parents and I. My dad took a good amount of photos - we are lucky that we have our family history in photos at all. But like most parents when photographing our families, the kids are the focus. Especially now, we take so many photos of our kids as babies, toddlers, and then slowly as they age it becomes less and less and with it goes the opportunity to be part of that documented history with our kids.

I remember one year when I was around 8 or 9 we had a Sears portrait done as a family. That was the only time we had a professional photo taken of the 5 of us. It was a big deal at the time. It currently hangs in my parents basement and it's the source of much laughter and teasing as my siblings and I point the finger at who had the worst 80s hair and outfit. While I like that photo for that reason alone, it doesn't feel like how I remember our childhood.

It makes me think about what it would have been like if at the time we had someone come into our home and our lives to capture the 5 of us with a photo session. The details of our day, the interactions, our little home, what that place and time felt like.

I think my own kids would have loved to see that. To see with their own eyes how my life was, how their grandparents were and what it felt like to grow up in my family's home. That green shag carpet in our basement or the little garden of lily of the valley we had in our little yard.

I think about this idea of photos as family history when I take photos for clients because the photos we take aren't just for us right now but for our kids and for their kids later in life.

Don't wait to preserve your family's history and don't forget to be a part of it. My mom reminds me of this every time she sees me taking photos of my kids - she wrestles me for my camera so that I can be in the frame too. I resist at first but then realize she's right, I want my kids to see me too. Sometimes I remember this on my own and attempt to get a photo of me with the kids. Often this is the result but I love it cause this is who they are - funny, silly, and hamming it up so that I get frustrated and stop taking photos and play with them instead.

Interested in booking a session with me? I'd love to hear from you, get in touch by clicking below.
Ottawa photographer - Melanie Mathieu

Friday, 15 June 2018

Father's Day

I came across these two favourite photos of me with my dad. I don't have that many with him when I was younger - maybe because he often had the camera or maybe it's the third child syndrome where photos become more and more scarce as you move down the line in rank. It was also the time of film as opposed to having a camera at your fingertips. I love these photos because they feature two of his iconic outfits. That winter jacket was still in the rotation as of 6 years ago maybe (that photo on the Rideau Canal circa 1984). That tuque can still be found tucked away in my parents' front hall closet. Saving his clothes is something we all kid him about. That plaid shirt didn't last quite as long but it had a really good run and who knows maybe he's hidden it at the back of the closet where I can't find it. When I think of my dad and my childhood moments with him, he is wearing that shirt. These photos bring me back to these two days and without these photos, I likely would have forgotten the stories behind them. 

If you are searching for ideas for Father's Day that are meaningful, look no further than those photos that tell your stories - print them, frame them, get them off those devices and create something more tangible. 

Thursday, 3 May 2018

3 Misconceptions about In-Home Documentary Photography

1) You just show up and shoot

Although it may seem that way or sound that way when I talk about what I do, there's a lot more to it than that. There is a lot of planning even if I am there to capture spontaneous interactions. I like to know who I'll be meeting to get a sense of what is important to the family which helps me to know what I should be trying to capture. I send clients a short questionnaire before we meet so that I can learn more about their family, little details, favourite activities, what their everyday routine looks like. All of this information helps me to prepare and can also be used to help guide a session. For example, this family mentioned their son's love of trucks and cars. I used it as an ice breaker when meeting them to get them to interact together. The fact that it is something the child loves at the moment, makes it important and worth capturing.

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I also need to anticipate what type of gear I will need to bring along. Depending on the type of session and location, I have to decide whether I need a macro lens to capture tiny newborn details or my flash if the lighting may not be ideal.

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2) You just take pictures as they happen

This is partly true. I don't like to manipulate the situation too much. I like to gently give some direction if needed but for the most part, I let things play out and follow along. However, this doesn't mean that I snap away without intent. I move around to figure out the best composition or sometimes I compose the image in my mind first based on light, lines, reflections or whatever I have to work with and I patiently wait until the subject enters the frame where I wanted them to be. I see interactions happening and I move in to capture a detail or I move back to add context to the scene. The goal is to make the strongest image possible while playing off of the surroundings and subjects. In my work, I like to create images that make you feel something and this means watching and waiting for everything to come together in just the right way.

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3) Documentary Photography is so much easier than studio photography 

Just as lighting setups and posing in a studio are not as easy as the pros make it look, documentary photography is challenging in so many ways. It requires a very specific skill set: you have to be flexible, be able to think quick on your feet, be a good observer. You walk into people's personal spaces as a stranger and have to be able to make people feel comfortable within minutes so that they will look natural on camera and enjoy the experience. Walking into people's personal spaces, their homes, can be a very vulnerable thing and you have to approach it as such. Each family is different which is what makes this type of photography so interesting. Each family has its own dynamic that you have to quickly gauge and adjust to. Lighting is never the same from one place to another and it can vary so much even within the same house. You have to be able to figure out how to use it and other elements to your advantage. As most people can attest to, taking photos of your own kids can be a challenge because they move so quickly. Imagine trying to get those moments together with trying to familiarize yourself with the family, the space, the light.

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I love what I do. Working as a photographer challenges me every time. It's different every time. I love meeting new families and also shooting the same families year after year and seeing how they have grown and changed.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

DEAR YOU: Your Childhood Documented - A Journal for Parents

Last summer it struck me that I needed to start a journal for my kids. I have tons of photos which help to bring me back to moments but I also wanted words to go along with that visual record of life. I went searching for a really simple journal, one for each of my kids. What I settled on was a day planner that I thought I could use to write a line or two about them each day. Those first two weeks were documented in great detail but after that, it was sparse and then, I just stopped. Life gets busy right? For me the pressure of daily journaling just doesn’t work. I felt guilty about missing a day or two and then just ignored the task completely to avoid the guilt. Or I struggled to write something, anything, just to say I did which meant those real moments got lost amongst words I wrote just because. 

I realized that I didn't want to document every single moment of life with my children because that has a way of pulling me away from being fully present with them now. I wanted to pick and choose the things that speak to me the most. 

I wanted a journal that gave me the freedom to pick it up when something happened that I needed to write down instead of feeling disappointed in myself for forgetting to write down the date of a given milestone. I wanted a journal based on moments. 

I wanted a quick way to jot down a line or two, or even a word that my children said that made me laugh. I didn’t want to feel bad about an empty page where I couldn’t remember what happened that particular day or what her favourite song was when she was 2 years old.

I wanted a space to write as much for me as for them to revisit moments again like our memories tend to be – maybe a bit disjointed but full of meaning and emotion. I didn’t want a big bulky book that felt childish in shades of bright pink or blue. I wanted a book that was easy to carry around and that would be timeless. One I could leave on my night table or put in my purse so that I could write whenever inspiration would strike.

The outcome of this process is 'Dear You: Your Childhood Documented', a journal for parents with 5 sections to separate your thoughts but still flexible enough to make it your own. Something you can fill up with everything from little details from specific moments to your own thoughts on parenthood, providing a record of childhood for you and your children. 

To find out more about the journal and to purchase your copy, visit: