Being Candid

I was going through some old personal photographs over the weekend. There were lots of pictures of people smiling for the camera but amongst the school portraits and posed group shots were a couple of candid snapshots that caught my eye.

Brian and Dad. Rochester, NY (early 1960's)

There was a photograph of my dad with my youngest brother – a candid moment, either right before or right after the “posed” moment that captured their spirits. There was a cockeyed shot of my other brother asleep in a barber chair.

Jay at the barber. Rochester, NY (early 1960's)

And then there was a shot of me with my sister and cousin that left you wondering. It was a picture of my sister and cousin, sitting in a wagon that had been abandoned on a sidewalk in a newly built “neighborhood”, taken in the early 1950’s. And there I was, younger and smaller than my sibling, but standing defiantly on my own, refusing to pull the wagon any further.

Janice and Jeanine in wagon. Me standing defiantly. Chicago, IL (early 1950's)

When I was growing up taking pictures wasn’t like it is these days in the digital era. The cameras then were totally manual and you were quite lucky if your pictures “came out”. You didn’t really know what your results would be until weeks, months or even years later, after you finished the roll of film that was in your camera and had dropped it off at the drug store to be sent off to Kodak to get developed. Depending on how frugal you had been with snapping pictures on that roll of film, looking through your prints after they came back from Kodak was sometimes like seeing the whole year in images with each holiday neatly documented. So with the odds against you for capturing good pictures, you tended to be very cautious and shoot only the sure-fire posed situations. Those shots were hard enough to get, let alone trying to get candid moments. One of my favorite songwriter/musicians, Jackson Browne writes about the candid moments caught in an image:

Looking through some photographs I found inside a drawer

I was taken by a photograph of you

There were one or two I know that you would have liked a little more

But they didn’t show your spirit quite as true

These days of course taking photos is almost seemless because of automatic features on digital cameras giving us instant gratification in seeing our results immediately. Everyone is taking pictures and in a much more spontaneous way – taking more chances because what’s the harm if something doesn’t come out right – you just erase it and try again. It’s quite interesting because we are all documenting our times and our culture for future generations to see beyond the smiling face.

I love to shoot the candid moments and I’ve spent a career documenting our times and our world through the lens of my camera. I’m an observer and a visual communicator but I’m also a historian, knowing that my images will be a legacy of my time in history. It’s a powerful thought to know that someday someone may look at a photograph that I shot and wonder. Or at least I hope my images will make one wonder, beyond the smile of the faces captured.

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The Family Story

This time of year we all try to spend more time with our families and loved ones. It’s also a time when we reflect on the people who are no longer with us. For the most part we rely on our memories and some scattered photographs or home movies.

Mooney family dressed up for Easter. I'm the child smiling.

Some of the fondest memories I have of my mother, father and grandparents are of us sitting around the dinner table, long after the meal was over and listening to the family stories. Of course each person would tell the same story in an entirely different way – the way they remembered it.

Every family has stories – mine certainly does and I have started to collect information, photographs and even recordings of family members while they are still around to tell them. It’s such an easy thing to do with all the tools that technology has provided in the way of cameras and audio recorders.

I often think that as photographers and filmmakers we are not only the keepers of our own family stories but we are documenting the stories for other families through our images, recordings and videos. Here’s a recording of my Uncle Dorlen talking about fishing in Northern Michigan in the winter.

Family gathering at my Uncle "Frenchy's" memorial.

Essentially, we are creating an archive of our loved ones and the memories. And that is the most precious gift that I can give someone through the talents of my craft.

I was recently looking at someone’s vacation snapshots and it occurred to me just how precious those images are, certainly for the people in them and the people they know. I have always taken the family snapshots and have recently started video recording my relatives telling their stories through their own voices, preserving them for future generations.

So think about that – even if you just take out your iPhone or Flip this holiday season, start capturing life’s moments. You’ll be glad you did.

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