why documentary: your looks vs. your legacy

there are a lot of different names for the type of photography i do- family photojournalism, documentary photography, storytelling sessions, etc- but when you boil it down, they are all rooted in the same basic principle: to photograph your life as you live it. no posing, no direction, no special outfits or locations, just you and your people being who you are.

because the concept of this type of photography is still so new and generally unknown and misunderstood, it’s been my intention for awhile now to start a blog series on why documentary sessions are so valuable and meaningful. like many other things, however, it has continually gotten pushed to the bottom of the pile as other things popped up and took priority. i was frustrated with myself for not getting it done, but when i came home from a recent trip to visit my grandparents, i was thankful i’d put it off for so long. this set of photos was meant for this series, and it’s the perfect way to kick it off.

my grandfather turned 90 a few weeks ago, and so the day after thanksgiving, we all loaded up and made the 6 hour car trip to celebrate with him. it ended up being an 8.5 hour drive, so when we finally arrived, we all felt like this:


And even though it poured the entire next day, we managed to have some fun in the condo my grandmother booked for us.

it was fun to capture these moments of my kiddos enjoying our trip, but what i was really looking forward to was creating photos of my grandparents. i don’t get to see them nearly as often as i would like, especially now that i have three little ones and road trips are a bit more challenging, and even though this was a solidly joyful visit, in the back of my mind, i was acutely aware that this could very well be the last time i get to see my grandfather.

i have many deeply fond memories of my grandparents from my childhood that reach far beyond the way they looked. i remember how their house smelled. i remember my grandmother’s meticulous decorating and her treasured possessions. i remember the way my grandfather would point when he was talking (see above!) or telling a joke. his laugh is still the same now, although perhaps a little bit slower and quieter than it once was. i remember the way my grandmother would tilt her chin up to look down through her glasses at the right angle as she focused on a task. i remember how she would always find a way to let me help, the way she let my boys help get some decorations ready for the evening’s party, and the way she always had something small but special on hand for me to keep as a reminder of our trip to see her (i don’t think she really bought these harry potter glasses for herself like she said she did!).

when we walked into their apartment a few weeks ago, all of those memories came flooding back, the way they always do whenever we manage a trip down to see them. i was determined to create photos that held evidence of who my grandparents are- the things they value, the way they care for and live in their space, the way they love us, and the way they love each other.


if i had asked them to stand next to each other and smile, they would have done that for me. they would have put their arms around each other and stood close and beamed because their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren were surrounding them. but this- this is so much more. i waited and i watched and i was rewarded with this brief but deeply real and pure exchange of smiles and touch and love that has lasted through time and through life.

the rest of our trip was full of moments, large and small, that held significant meaning for me, each in their own way- people, gestures, expressions, interactions, connections. each was a part of something larger than itself; these moments were and are the building blocks that when put together, create who we are as a family, with my grandparents at the foundation. they have spent their lives pouring themselves into us so that when the time comes, we can continue their legacy for them.

here’s what we need to keep in mind when we choose to have photos of our family taken- we are so much more than the outfits we put together or the way we do our hair or the way that we smile. well coordinated and posed family pictures in a stunning location are a beautiful keepsake to have (i have dragged my own family out for quite a few, believe me), but there is so much missing from them. they can showcase how our faces change throughout the years, but they can’t document how we grow in our hearts and in our souls and in our lives. they are an accurate and lovely representation of our physical beauty, but they simply cannot show the depth of our personalities or the way that we interact with the world. i am so thankful for the last photo shown above because it will help me always remember how my beautiful grandparents looked in that moment, but i’m even more thankful for the other photos in this post because they show me the legacy that they lived and will leave for us; they will forever make me feel the way i felt when i was with my grandparents then and now, and that is a treasure worth holding on to.

meet the photographer

hi :) i’m liz. it’s possible you’ve read the “about” section on my website already, but if you’re anything like me, you totally haven’t, and i don’t really blame you. when i go to a photographer’s website, i like to look at, you know… photographs. and if you’re on my site, i’d prefer for you to spend most of your time looking at mine. but, sometimes it’s nice to know a little bit about the person you’re hiring to photograph you, so i thought i’d jump on here and say hey.

a basic summary of who i am/what i do: i’m a jesus loving, 30-something mom of three beautiful boys (almost 6, 4, and 1). my husband works his tail off to provide for us so that i can stay home and homeschool them. this is our first year and i’m terrified of homeschooling but i’m also loving it with my whole heart even though i am drop dead exhausted at the end of every day. we just moved into a house 3x bigger than anything i ever pictured us in- but that’s because we bought it with my mom and dad and i absolutely cannot wait until they move in. it’s unconventional, but so are we and i’m so looking forward to the years ahead of us here together. i’ve loved photography for a long time, but i started seriously pursuing it almost exactly 4 years ago, when my second born was about 3 months old. i’m completely self taught and firmly believe that i will never ever know everything there is to know about this or any other thing and somehow that keeps me motivated to keep learning as much as i can.

there’s a few reasons i’m doing this post tonight. first- i haven’t blogged since march. maaaaaaaarch. that’s a stupid long time. and now that fall is here, i’m going to have lots of beautiful sessions with lots of beautiful people that i’m going to want to show off, which means i’m actually really for real this time going to start blogging again. really. and i thought this would be a good way to kick that off.

second- i enjoy writing, and i miss doing it, so here we go. words. that i have written.

third- after much hesitation and internal struggle/debate, i took this photo today:

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^ that’s me. in all my mom glory. headband, glasses, crusty sweats because all three of my kids are sick with the head cold i’m still kind of recovering from. i absolutely knew i wanted to do an intro post, and i absolutely knew i wanted to include a self portrait so you could put a face to my name if you don’t already know me, but i absolutely intended to wait to take it and post until the next day i could put on make up. or blow dry my hair. or get more than 3 hours of sleep the night before and then, you know, shower.

but here’s the thing. i currently do traditional portrait sessions, and i’ll probably always do traditional portrait sessions because i do enjoy them and i know people value and enjoy having posed, “everybody say cheese” photos on their walls. the truth though, is that my new mission is to convince every single one of you that you don’t want to hire me to take your portrait. you want to hire me to come document your life. and that means i show up at your house and you just do life like you would if i wasn’t there, except i am and i’m taking pictures of it because it is so much more awesome than you realize. but how can i ask you all to let me photograph you as you are if i don’t do the same? so even though this is posed, and even though i cheesed for the camera, this is still me, as i am, during my normal every day. sometimes i clean up and look nice and have on clothing that coordinates (and fits), but this is more honest. and i’m big on honesty.

so if you visit this space over the coming months, there’s (hopefully, ha!) going to be some posts with nicely posed families that are smiling and looking at me surrounded by a beautiful natural backdrop. but there’s also going to be some talk about why documenting is just as important (or if you ask me, more important) than just taking portraits. so get ready :)

let's tell the truth

here's a little story for you.  it's called "life is really freaking hard with young children but you should take pictures of yourself doing it anyway".  it goes like this:

you have a baby.  you love that baby more than anything ever in the entire universe.  you take pictures of everything the baby does, (including but not limited to the first time a snot bubble appears).  you want to take some pictures of you with the baby too, but you want to wait to take pictures of yourself with the baby until you have a chance to shower and look like a human being again.  you go on taking all the pictures of everything the baby does with your phone while simultaneously trying to survive the endless days of diapers and booger noses and meal after meal after of carefully prepared food that ends up on the floor.  eventually you realize you still haven't taken any photos of yourself (at least that have your face in them) with the baby because you still feel like someone took the word "frump" and stuffed it into what used to be your body but you're pretty sure is now just a floppy skin bag with a few oily strands of hair sticking out of the top.  so then you take a deep breath and decide to get over it and take some pictures with that baby... and the other two babies that have arrived in the interim.  those pictures look like this:


10 years later, you get a shower.  after that you go buy jeans that actually fit you.  you wear those jeans while cooking food that you get to eat before it gets cold, and then you sit down on a sofa that's not covered in legos or old cereal or mystery stains that you covered with a dish towel last thursday. once you sit, you pour over a photo album that has pictures of you with a mom bun and crusty pajamas and babies who are looking at you with expressions that have "you are my world" written all over them- and you don't even care that you used to look that awful.  because those days were hard, and long, and you cried, and you wished they would end while also praying that your babies would stay little, and you have these photos as proof that they happened, and they were real, and that you all made it out to the other side a little stronger and closer and happier because you loved each other when things weren't beautiful, and you still love each other now, and you know you'll go on loving each other because you made it through the trenches together.