A camera is a tool for learning to see without a camera.
It was through the lens of my camera that I first learned to see my daughter. In those endless, tedious months of her new life, I passed the time photographing her. I’d pull out the camera each day, first the tiny point-and-shoot and later the big DSLR. It was a way to spend the long hours but, more importantly, it was a way to find beauty and goodness in even the darkest of days. Photographing her was my song of gratitude, like a prayer my lips couldn’t utter.
When my son was born, I had three more years of practice under my belt—three more years of photography and three more years of mothering. I had practiced and practiced and practiced. I wanted to be a better photographer, a better seer of the world. I wanted to appreciate it all and capture it all.
I also wanted to be the best mom. I wanted my children to know they are loved unconditionally and I wanted them to feel it. I wanted them to know that their mother really does see them.
So, for a while, I put the camera down. I took a break from all that clicking and capturing, and I started looking at them with my own eyes. No photographs, just memories. I made a point to pause and be grateful, to mark the moments in my mind just the way I would with my camera, only instead of imprinting them onto a memory card or a frame of film, I would imprint them into my heart.
When I got really good at that, I knew I could pick up the camera again.
Sometimes the camera is a lifeline. It can be a survival tool. A photograph says so many things: I am here. You are here. I see you. It is so utterly important, and so possible now that we all have cameras on our phones.
Sometimes the camera is a hindrance. For me, I can get so lost in taking photos that I forget to slow down and be present. I just click-click-click, trying this setting and that angle, while time slips by and I barely notice. I’ve missed what was going on right in front of me because I was a spectator, not a participant.
It takes some practice to know which moments should be captured with the camera and which to simply live. I can’t say that I have that figured out, but I can say that I would rather just be with my children, giving them my full attention, than worrying about creating the perfect photograph. When I photograph them, I have to remind myself to take the picture quickly, then get back to living the moment.
This year, I’m working on a photography project that captures our everyday life, focusing on finding the stories within our days rather than just taking pretty pictures. I want to look over the course of the year and see how we spent our days. I want to feel that sense of gratitude for these children, for their father, and for the life we live, that what I see with my eyes and what I see in those photographs can be the same. More than anything, I want to live my life and be thankful for all it entails: the beauty and frustration, the easy moments and the hard, the little faces that I love to kiss, and the hands I love to hold.
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