Reg Hamlett is a guest contributor to Playground Dad. He lives in Chicago, IL with his 2 sons.
Not all holidays are equal. Some are joyous, filled with family, friends, food and good times. Others are quiet, reflective and best used for recharging. My Labor Day was a mix of both. As I was flipping through the pictures from the weekend, a sense of nostalgia came over me, so I went digging in the boxes for old pictures. As I was looking over the images of my family life, particularly the special shots of my children, I noticed something I hadn’t noticed before: I’m barely in a third of the pictures. And I’m in even fewer of the pictures of those key milestones: riding their first bike without training wheels, getting on the bus for the first day of kindergarten, the first homerun in baseball, I’m not visible. I realized, in that instant, that I’ve become the family cameraman.
Now, don’t get me wrong, this is a great gig. While I’m capturing the scenes from our life, my children are actually living life. But I did try to break this down in my head to make sure I understood what was happening. Because, to the casual observer, it could just as easily look as though I wasn’t there or involved at all. There are, of course, all the posed, studio pictures. My wife and I in color coordinated sweaters with our sons in the middle, kind of a Garanimals meet the Huxtables thing. There are the group shots at the end parties, where you rotate camera duty and no one picture has everyone in it. Then there are the celebration pictures that capture the joy right after the moment has occurred. I’m in a lot of those. But the best ones, hands down, are the in-the-moment shots where breakthroughs are occurring.
The best part of being the family cameraman is the unique vantage point it gives me. I can see the emotions on their faces as they anticipate what will come next. Sometimes there’s a look of excitement, worry or an intense gaze, other times it’s just an ear-to-ear grin. And while it may have taken 10 pictures to get that perfect one, it never takes away from the experience they are actually having. As cameraman (and, I guess, editor), I can concentrate on them while they are free to be themselves without having to think about how the world sees them.
When we are looking through old pictures as a family, it’s interesting to watch the reactions of my kids. They are frequently amazed that the picture exists, and after a moment or two, they get excited when the memory comes rushing back to them. Often, it is comedy hour, as they are more focused on the random pictures that pop up from my childhood and I have to explain the significance of polyester, homemade suits and platform shoes. Sometimes, when they can’t remember the scene of the picture, it’s a great opportunity to talk about where our family has been and where we are now. But mostly, they seem to find a sense of peace that the moment was captured and that they can return to a simpler time just by pulling the pictures out and reliving the stories.
A few days ago, as I was taking my youngest to the first day of first grade, we stopped in the driveway so I could take a picture of him. He made serious faces, silly faces, plenty of smiling faces (By the way, the best way to get a great smile from a reluctant subject is to get them to say bumblebee.) and we had a quick moment of laughter before his newest adventure. Before we hopped in the car, he stopped me and asked if he could take a picture of me. I agreed, he grabbed the camera and began snapping away. Ignoring the various shots where my head is cut off and the picture is crooked, he captured a few really good shots. Whether he’s ready to become the family photographer remains to be seen, but it did make me stop and appreciate the fact that, just as I enjoy watching my kids live, they enjoy the unique perspective they have on my life.
As I close the albums and shoeboxes for this trip down memory lane, I realize what I love most about these precious shots is that they simply capture my sons doing, being and just living. Though I’m far from a professional and my shots are often blurry, they are never out of focus.
Image Credit: Daniel Dionne