Family | 2007

This was the first photo I ever took with a large format camera. I had no idea what I was doing, and have shot large format so infrequently over the years since that were I to today take out any of the three large-format cameras I still own, I would be right back where I was in 2007 when this photo was taken.

This photo illustrates how important serendipity is to what I end up regarding as my favorite photos, and I suspect that is the same for many photographers. Without fail, those pictures I take where I think to myself, Oh that was a good one, I can't wait till I get the negatives back, never materialize into keepers. It's always the pictures I can barely remember taking that end up the treasures.

To admit such might seem to diminish my creativity, my role in the process, but I don't see it that way. It's simply an admission that no matter how intentional I aim to be, at no point am I in control of the entire process of taking a picture, or can I spread my awareness to cover all aspects, to see all corners of the frame as it were. Of course one aims to see all, but the light is constantly changing, people are moving, expressions are changing, silver particles are reacting, moment to moment. A million and one decisive moments but very rarely the decisive moment. Catching lightning in a bottle owes much to happenstance.

All this is magnified with large format photography, where the moving parts can seem overwhelming if not infinitesimal. So the ugly suit bag in the background shares a focal plane with my wife and son whereas those adorable Thomas the Tank Engine figures on my son's sweatshirt are barely recognizable. I would have done it differently, but I doubt I would feel the same about this photo if I had.

In the end, though, it's the expressions of my wife and son that penetrate past everything. I'm sure I must have fiddled with the unfamiliar apparatus for a patience-trying length of time, and there was unlikely any "Say cheese!" moment. As well, this photo was only meant as a test, and we can wonder what sort of facial expressions I would have gotten if I had announced "I'm going to take a portrait of you guys." rather than "Can you guys sit over there a minute so I can test this camera?" The result is a photo where their guard was down, the instinctive urge to smile or otherwise set one's expression in a familiar state no longer there.

The fact that this was taken on Polaroid instant film plays a part as well. The inherent qualities of a Polaroid give the photograph a muted, transient ethereality which, like the daguerreotypes of old, further enhances this in-between state where the subjects are neither fully conscious of what is going on nor entirely self-conscious. 

All of these various circumstances and elements somehow become a serendipitous whole, to my mind anyway. And it is that serendipity that makes me treasure this photograph even more than I would already be inclined to do, considering it is after a photograph of the two people I treasure more than anything.