by Garry Cook
It’s the biggest mistake I see by student or amateur photographers (who want to be a proper photographer*). Images, no matter how experimental or no matter how unoriginal, of the photographer’s family.
It’s lazy, cliched and uninspiring.
Asking relatives to allow you to take photographs of them is the easiest thing to do for an aspiring photographer. They want to help you on your way. Yes, you can get the odd child, wife or husband who will be difficult. They are sick of being photographed, your camera irritates them. But on the whole they, and your extended family, will not say no.
The problem is, whatever project you are doing is going to lack that extra bit of tension – created through nerves, effort and time constraints – which photographing strangers brings. It’s too easy for the snapper who photographs his family to fall into family snapshot mode, producing glorified images of gardens and family gatherings which say little about either the people in the images or the photographer themselves.
If you want to do a project successfully you have to break new ground as a photographer, physically and mentally. When you do this, you will know about it. You will feel exhausted from the process, you’ll feel the buzz of satisfaction knowing that you used all your skills as a photographer – including the often overlooked skill of communication.
There are photographers more experienced than me who believe family photography is the easy way out for a photographer. Martin Parr said something along these lines at a symposium in London a few years back.
That’s not to say you should not photograph your family. Documenting them growing up or growing old is important. Just don’t present this work as your next big project, especially if you aspire to be a documentary or art photographer. You won’t impress anyone who knows about photography that are worth impressing.
*NOTE: Proper photographers don’t really exist any more.
OTHER NOTES: These photographs are of my daughter Betsy, aged 3 (Aug 2015, Gibside near Newcastle). She posed in return for a small packed of sweets. No sweets, no photos.
OTHER OTHER NOTES: This blog is mainly aimed at aspiring art and documentary photographers, particularly those making photo projects