A rare non-selfie of the author and one of her daughters. Photo: courtesy of Kristen Thompson
I had a bitter epiphany earlier this month when, (belatedly) editing hundreds of pictures from last Christmas, I realized there was not one photo of me. If an outsider had been scrolling through the documentation of our family’s yuletide bliss, they would likely have surmised that this family did not, in fact, include a wife or mother.
We have thousands of family photos—new baby hospital shots, first birthday candle-blowing shots, beach shots and picnic shots. I am conspicuously absent from most of them. Which is where my bitter epiphany comes in: I realized—while sitting silently with my laptop and my rage—that four years of begging my husband to take more pictures of me with my kids had been utterly pointless. And that if I wanted to leave photographic evidence of my existence in their childhoods, I would have to take matters into my own hands.
I've tried to do that in the past, with selfies. I've taken in the neighbourhood of 17 million of them. They are awkward, and badly composed, and look like the crappy up-close iPhone shots that they are. But if I didn’t take them, there would be no pictures of me with my kids. None. Selfies have become a necessity, to the point that I even researched buying a selfie stick so I could take pictures that looked as if they’d been snapped by someone else. Someone thoughtful, perhaps. *takes a sip of wine*
But I came up with an even better solution. I decided to invest my selfie stick money in a professional photographer. Not for family shots of us sitting on a blanket in an orchard with sun flare and subtly coordinating outfits. I wanted candid photos capturing the mundane, everyday life I live with my kids. The mundane life I want them to know about when they grow up, simply because it’s our story.
If this seems like a waste of money, it is. I shouldn’t have to pay for something that should otherwise be free. I’ve taken thousands of pictures of my husband with our kids. So photos of me with them should also exist in excess. But they don’t, and why on heavenly earth not?
I think it's because there seems to be something unremarkable about my children being in my arms. Not just to my husband, but to most people in my life. This has been a truism since the day they were born. Perhaps people are so used to seeing us together that it’s become white noise. Perhaps I have become invisible.
The reality is that I am present in every aspect of my daughters’ lives. I am there when they wake up and when they go to bed, and in between, I am there cutting crust from sandwiches and putting Band-Aids on invisible injuries. That an entire Christmas can be documented without so much as my toe making an appearance is boggling. The story these pictures will tell is that I was absent.
If you’re nodding your head and muttering “Hell yes” between clenched teeth, then you’re part of an army of women stuck in a never-ending battle with spouses who seem to be allergic to their smartphone cameras. It just doesn't occur to them to take the picture.
Rayanna Dykes Tremblay, a photographer whose job it is to captures other people’s memories, says she’s so sick of asking her husband to take photos that she actually started scheduling selfie time with her toddler daughter. But she's unsatisfied. “Selfies don't show the interaction I have with my daughter,” says Dykes Tremblay. “They just show us posing.”
Tracey Barnett Kinniburgh, an Edmonton-based photographer, says she’s noticed a jump in the number of women seeking mommy-and-me sessions. “I had a client recently who contacted me just on a whim, and admitted that the last time she had her photo taken with her son was when he was five. He recently celebrated his 22 birthday.”
As a response to this growing need, Barnett Kinniburgh began offering free 15-minute micro sessions to mothers and their children. “When I became a mother, I noticed the lack of husbands stepping in to take a photo of their partner with the kids, so I decided to step in,” she said, adding that she also struggles with getting her partner to take photos of her. “I think after my first son was born, I had two photos of us together before he was age one. I felt like I was nagging my husband and he would half-ass do the photo, or I'd hand him my pro gear and he would pick the most unflattering angle.”
People with camera phones and opposable thumbs: I want you to know how important this is for mothers. I want you to think about what would happen if anything should ever happen to us. What evidence would be left behind to show our kids how much we loved them?
Will my own children know what my face looked like as I watched them blow out the candles on their birthday cakes? Or what my arms looked like wrapped around them as we went down a slide? Or what their bodies looked like nestled into mine as they slept? It’s not too late. They’re young still. But they’re growing fast.
So if you're reading this and you rarely (or never) take pictures of your spouse with the kids, I beg of you: Even if it doesn’t last, even if it’s only for one day, go paparazzi on your spouse tomorrow. Even if her hair is a wreck. Even if she thinks she has three chins. Because that moment you’re capturing is important. Even if she’s just putting a Band-Aid on an invisible injury.
She’ll thank you for it. And in 15 years, so will her kids.