I have always been a storyteller but documentary photography is where I discovered my medium. In my life I have loved acting, writing, producing theater shows, and and working on crappy short films; all forms of storytelling. To be blunt, I never fell in love with photography, itself. In fact, I am still not “in love” with photography. While I do enjoy taking a beautiful photo, capturing true emotion and putting the photos together to make the story is where my heart lies.
What Lead Me To Documentary Photography
I started my journey into photography thinking I could make a little extra cash by providing head shots to actors in Los Angeles, where I was living at the time. I enrolled in an entry-level photography class at Santa Monica College and had a single experience that changed the entire course of my life (might I add that I also had a phenomenal instructor.)
While working on an assignment for this class, I found myself wandering around downtown Los Angeles, near the public library, where a lot of homeless folks tend to congregate. As I was passing by an older African American man, he said to me, “Have you ever seen so much hate in the world?”
Thinking he was just another vagabond, I kept walking until I noticed him pointing to something on the bench. There, clearly legible, was a racist comment etched into the wood. A racist remark next to a man wearing a United States Vietnam Veteran hat, a man who had fought to protect the freedom of whoever it was that etched that wretched comment into the bench he sat on. I stopped and had a long conversation with this man, who, as it turns out, was not just another vagabond.
As I walked away that day, he hollered after me, “You do something good with that camera!”
Curiosity struck. Could I really do something good with my camera and make a living? Could I use this tool to document the lives and experiences of others, to give others a voice they may otherwise not have?
That moment sealed my fate to become a documentary photographer.
I have photographed many things but nothing quite gives me the satisfaction I find in documenting real life. The joy I found in documenting families was discovered as I started photographing my own family. I watched my brother and sisters go from being just my siblings to being doting and frazzled parents as they started their own families. Spending extended periods of time in their homes when I visit has given me access into the unique stories of their family units. I see the highs and lows, the joy when the kids laugh, and the frustration when they have total meltdowns. I aim to capture these kids as who they are now, so that one day they can look back and see their journey into who they have become.
Why It’s Important to Me
I find importance in documenting families because, let’s face it, we are all going to die. When we preserve our own story, we give future generations the opportunity to connect with us when we are gone. Connecting with members of our family, both past and present, fills an innate need in each one of us. I love looking at old images of my ancestors. However, there are few and they are nearly all portraits that tell me very little about who these people were. I like the idea of children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren having access, not just to a few portraits to see what their ancestors looked like, but images of real life that give them a glimpse into who we were and what life was like for us in the era in which we lived.
These are my reasons for choosing documentary photography and how I discovered it. I have always wanted to be a story teller. Sometimes we only need to follow our curiosities to find our purpose. My curiosity was simply photography but that curiosity lead me to documentary photography, which is where I found my medium for storytelling.
I would love to hear what telling and preserving your family’s story means to you. Reach out and let me know!