Erika Ray Photography » blog


Something has been bothering me forever, but I couldn’t figure it out.  There wasn’t three-day-old laundry in the washer.  The kids have had a bath in the past week.  What was bugging me?  After a good conversation, I think I’ve figured it out.  Photography gimmicks.

You know what I can’t take any longer?  It saddened me to even type it because I’ve know I’ve played this game.  That I’ve built an audience by using this gimmick  (she claims I haven’t, but I think she’s wrong).  Whether I do or don’t, I won’t any longer.  I can’t “sell” you my photography-style by calling it anything other than what it is.  I can’t add whimsical adjectives.  It just is what it is.  I won’t sell you ordinary beauty of family life.  I won’t sell you the pretty filth of parenthood.  Because there’s lots of photographers doing that.   When I visit them, I read about capturing fleeting moments or the boring details which make up life.  How we should appreciate them because one day the kids will be all grown up.  Most are really good at it.  Bouncing light in spots where none exisit.  Making smeared oatmeal look gorgeous.  A peanut butter moustache on a filthy kid, but so breathtaking you actually reach for your own child to wipe a dollap across his face.  You know what I’m talking about.  You’ve probably read my own version here.  But it’s starting to feel gimmicky to me.  Just like the mason jars and tea parties in a wildflower field, I can’t take Beautiful Boring Moment rants.  Notice I said “rant”?  I’d still rather look at and be inspired by your boring details than a staged/prop’d up session any day.

I just can’t read about how I’m suppose to cherish these moments.  I’m not in the mood to feel grateful for messy kitchens or Sharpie on the walls.  I’m not angry about these moments or with the photographers who sell it that way.  But lately, I feel like lots of people are sugar-coating the mess into a gimmick.  Let’s be honest, these tiny undies on my floor are just dirty clothes my youngest left in the tv room.  I asked him three times to put them in the hamper and still they sit here.  I could have photographed them and written a lovely piece about how I was irritated, but then through my lens I found a reminder that life moves quickly.  One day, my itty bitty four-year-old, would be to modest for the TV room.  And he’d be long pass the Thomas the Train underwear stage, but into a Boxer Brief period.  This photo would make me miss his youth and I would be so happy that I took 2 minutes to capture this detail.  I can’t do that post.  I won’t do that post.  Because those underwear are just underwear left on the ground.

Yes, my kids will grow up and I will miss this tighty-whities.  Yes, photography has taught me to appreciate details in the boring-ness of life.  Yes, I take photos so I can remember our life that is flying by!  But doesn’t it feel gimmicky?  And more importantly it feels like it puts Moms who are photographers in a corner when that’s how we sell our photos.  Like we’re only good because we can focus on the trees and not the forest.  We’re only good because we have kids and we can find beauty in the mess.  I’m not good because I make shitty parenting moments look good.  I’m good because I have some talent.

Listen, I’ll still be sappy.  That’s part of the deal when the after-birth drops out.  It’s replaced by raw emotion that is impossible to ignore.  I’ll still show you the ordinary.  My life is pretty damn ordinary.   What else would I focus on?  But I won’t sell you that I love the Lego mess on my floor.  It fucking hurts to step on them.  I won’t tell you that I appreciate it.  I actually hate it, but I was too lazy to force them to clean it up last night.  And I refuse to clean it up today.  Sure, it will be sad when the boys no longer play with Lego and I come across our Lego pictures.  But you know what will be awesome?  How they can stay home alone and we can go out for a date.

My photography isn’t beautiful boring moments that I want to cherish.  It isn’t a reminder that you should also embrace your own mess.  It simply is what it is.

Day 28: Discovering that it’s just mess and not a gimmick.

  • molly - “But I won’t sell you that I love the Lego mess on my floor. It fucking hurts to step on them.” i am laughing so hard.November 27, 2012 – 4:29 pmReplyCancel

  • isabel - i can’t even photograph my kids in their room. because i am not picking up all the fucking books again, and sorting clean clothes from dirty. if they want to wear 2 week old underwear they find under their bed, so be it.

    i hate how it feels like pressure. like i don’t have enough cutesy, perfectly designed corners of my house that my toddler can throw a tantrum in. i live in a dumpy apartment with shitty lighting and i can’t find joy in photographing THAT. but if you’re a mom and a photographer and aren’t photographing your daily life then WHAT ARE YOU?!?!?!

    fuck.November 27, 2012 – 5:06 pmReplyCancel

  • Emily - Oh Erika, I love your bitch/truth posts.
    I have TRIED to find inspiration in photographing “things” and “details” and it’s not there for me. A pile of mess under the table, by itself, to me is just a mess.
    But one thing I have tried to do this year a lot more of is not to edit as much when I compose. I let the clutter tell a story around actual people or children in the scene. I’m okay with undies on the floor if there is a naked bum fleeing the scene. I’m cool with scribbled crayon on the walls if there is a guilty-looking toddler lurking in the shot. To each her own, but I need actual humans in most of my images to evoke any sort of emotion…November 27, 2012 – 6:06 pmReplyCancel

  • jude - this might be totally off topic but i would love to read a piece from you on elf on the shelf. that would be funny as hell. well, unless you have one. then i’ll shut up now. but seriously i love that you write straight to the point and no BS.November 27, 2012 – 7:33 pmReplyCancel

  • susan keller - ummmm. that is NOT a Lego mess. it’s several thousand too few pieces. come to my house. I’ll show you a Lego mess.

    ps. hilarious post. needed to be said. (oh yeah, and I say that as someone who actively sells the “let me photograph your real life” idea)November 27, 2012 – 9:58 pmReplyCancel

  • Sarah - i have a theory that the mom-tog-shoot-your-life approach actually kills more businesses then walmart…

    and i love your rants. always!November 27, 2012 – 10:29 pmReplyCancel

  • Xanthe Berkeley - oh boy. I agree and don’t agree. That’s the beauty of one’s opinion. Still love you and all you shoot and write. This is just too close to home. x.November 28, 2012 – 7:40 amReplyCancel

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