When I began photographing people, I had no concept of how much this gig would impact me personally. This job has been with me for the majority of my 20s, and without realizing it in the moments it was happening, it was helping me grow up. It was teaching me to know when to shut up and listen, and how to be more objective. And lastly, it was helping me understand people and experiences that were otherwise unknown to me.
Our 20s vary for each of us – some people are dating, some are changing career paths, some are getting married, some are having children, some are traveling, some are buying homes, some are going back to school. As someone who has consistently been nowhere near marriage or having children personally, I knew very little about these topics when this all began. At the first wedding I ever photographed, I missed the first kiss because I knew so little about the general order of events within a wedding ceremony. (True story.) Holding babies previously made me nervous and uncomfortable, and I felt disconnected when my friends would discuss trimesters and breastfeeding and potty training. But this job? This job threw me into that world – the world of pregnancies and babies and proposals and weddings – and I was forced to try to understand these unknowns if I wanted to do my job well. In turn, I unknowingly was doing far more than merely understanding for the sake of job performance – I was learning, and gaining a better understanding made me better at loving, and I developed a newfound appreciation for these stages of life that I have yet to experience.
The people I’ve photographed have taught me so much about these life stages, and so much about what’s important by way of simply letting me into their lives. I recently had the chance to photograph Ray and Shelby in their home as they anticipate the arrival of their baby boy next month, and it was one of those sessions that felt like a Sunday should – calm and unencumbered. It was my first time meeting them in person when I arrived at their home, but it somehow didn’t feel that way at all. As Shelby put it, it felt like “meeting an old friend for a cup of coffee” – and after reading her description while emphatically nodding my head in agreement, I realized this is what I hope for most when it comes to my sessions, and this is why the job has changed me. So I walked into the home of this couple who were previously strangers to me, and I met their dog, Marvin, and their cat, Mumford. I saw the framed photos of family and friends and younger versions of Ray and Shelby as they shared with me how they met in college, and what their wedding day was like. We laughed about their pets and posing, and as Shelby leaned back into Ray on the couch and his head rested naturally against hers, Ray said, “now this is how we would really relax on our couch”. And we were all comfortable with the room getting quiet in these moments, and didn’t feel the need to fill that space with anything at all. They sat and read from books about expecting, and laughed with one another as they read aloud the things that they hadn’t known prior to leafing through the pages. And that’s just it, you know? You prepare the nursery and leaf through the baby books, but also allow yourselves the grace of knowing there’s no way to fully prepare for this next stage, whichever “next stage” it may be. And that’s ok, because you’ve got one another, and you’ll learn and adjust and grow and laugh your way through it together.