Monday, 16 July 2018

Capturing Memories in a Snapshot

How much of growing up do we remember first hand and how much is through family stories and photographs? 

I got the fantastic opportunity to write this blog post for Milestone World and they posted it on American Mother's Day to celebrate the moms behind the camera and talk about recording memories. 

I’m a big believer that my memory of childhood is as detailed as it is due to repeatedly looking at photographs and hearing family share stories of behind the photograph. These have been added to my memory bank and intertwined with my first hand memories of the same event. My father was the photo taker in our family, following in the footsteps of his father and I’ve followed the same lead. I remember he had a beautiful manual camera and I can still remember the smell the leather case he kept it in. I remember mornings with us all sat in my parents bed opening the post from Truprint with our latest developed film - capturing the memories was important to us as a family. 

Looking back at photographs and talking about them brings them to life again over and over. For example, in the above photo of my brother and I, I know we have our hands up because my dad had said ‘put your hands up if you love your daddy’ and we did. If he hadn’t told me then I would not have remembered this memory first hand because I was only 5.

Memories are so fragile, we think we will always remember something and then a year passes and we look back and think wow, that seemed a lifetime ago. This is why taking photos is so important to me because I don’t want to forget one bit, I want to be able to look back year after year and remind myself of all those wonderful times. I don’t want busy lives or long to do lists to push out memory space in my brain, so I need the photos to gently remind me of that time when Logan used to carry around a train in each hand or how skinny Evie’s legs were when she was first born compared to just a couple of months later.

This is why whenever you see me I’ve usually got my iPhone in hand. I normally always have my phone on me to capture a photo when I need to in that moment - like Logan’s first steps towards an electric car in Toys R Us or a spontaneous cuddle between the two children who just a moment ago were fighting. However having worked in a photoshop when I was younger, I know how important it is to capture moments on a proper camera too. Phones are much better now in the year 2018, but you still can’t beat a digital camera snap when you want to print big. Therefore for planned days out I try and take along my DSLR to get those high resolution snaps that I can blow up big for the wall at home or just show more detail in the photo that gives it that burst of life. I always say to friends about to have a baby, invest in a really good camera and make it available around the home to grab every so often as an alternative to your phone, or at the least please back up your phone! Those memories are so important and if it’s going to cost you £5 a month in cloud fees then I highly recommend. I have cloud storage and external hard drives to keep my memories safe.

Take your time with the DSLR photos, I used to practice on a sleeping baby or one eating secured in a highchair. You can shoot in auto or play with manual, even a point and shoot will come out great and you’ll be able to do just that bit more with your photos afterwards. I’m always taking photos but I have to remind myself to pick up my big camera in the home and snap away, it is easier to use your phone but try and get a few natural home snaps with your camera once a month, they make such a difference when you look back at your memories. 
Of course I realise families usually follow one of two ways, some ‘live in the moment’ and they don’t take a lot of photos and then there are families like mine who capture every moment. Both have their positives and negatives and as someone always with a camera, I find I capture memories for my friends and family and have become reliant to be the one to take the photo. There are however moments when I do step back and enjoy the moment, for instance in situations where you can’t use a camera - the public swimming pool or a baby class. In these moments when I know I can’t have my camera then I don’t worry and get stuck straight into making memories.

I think photo props like the Milestone cards work for both kinds of people. For those families who do not naturally snap the memory, it gives them a prompt to go out of their way to complete the card with the memory date and snap the photo. A pregnancy is 9 months long but if you ask people how many bump photos they have of that time then often people will reply with none or just the one. Some go as far to say they wish they had been better at recording that time or reminded to record it. 

Even for those like me who love taking photos, there are certain things you wouldn’t think to take a photo of, like baby’s first kick. For my first pregnancy I wrote a journal and would leave dates and messages to baby and notes about how I was feeling. The second time round my pregnancy journal only reached an entry of 7 weeks pregnant and then I simply didn’t have the time to complete it. I’m so glad I had the milestone cards for my second pregnancy to help record those memories for Evie. I know from the above photo that she did her first proper kick felt on the outside on the 21st August 2016, that daddy felt it too and that I had just eaten a bag of mini eggs. There is no right or wrong way to record a milestone card and you can personalise it for your memories. 

Some of my photos are funny ones - like her first tooth, so I let her chew on down on her card because it just reminds me that those few days of tooth breaking were filled with biting everything and anything in sight. 

Some milestone cards were staged and set up for that particular photo and others were grabbed on the day because I suddenly remembered she was 8 weeks old today while I was bathing her. They are a mixture of my phone and my camera depending on the moment or the time I had.

My extended family soon got used to the milestone cards and would ask ‘is there one for this?’ And be amazed when I’d pull a card out of my bag with a sharpie pen and confirm I was indeed going to capture Evie’s first time at a petting farm, even if she had been asleep for the whole duration. It is fun searching through the card packs and seeing what different firsts you can record. I even used to get my husband to print me the free printable cards from the website to bring home for me for mothers day or valentines day. It’s brilliant now Milestone have even more dedicated books for first holidays. 

One thing I do have to remind myself with photos and memories is to make sure I get in front of the camera too. I learnt after my first born that when I looked back at his birth and first couple of weeks, I only had around two photos of me holding him. I’ve tried to change that second time round and my husband has earned himself a title of a insta husband from being the man behind the weekly pregnancy photos that involved us having to pull our dining room table out and tie the curtains up for the extra light. I like to think it’s helped him improve his own photography skills and reminded him to use his camera too. I know he has been learning because I often get sent a photo he’s taken of me asleep with both kids arms and legs over me. The key to remember is they don’t always have to be perfect and you don’t have to look your best, not every photo has to be paraded on social media, they are for you as a family rather than all your followers. 

So with the digital age, how do we recreate that sitting in bed and opening the post with the latest developed film? 

Photobooks is our family choice. 

We all know digital photos can live on peoples computers and never see the light of day again after they’ve been taken or posted, so I decided after I had Logan that I would record all the millions of photos I took of him in photobooks. The first was his first 7 weeks of life, it included all my weekly pregnancy photos and the preparation we did in the lead up to his birth. The next one was months 2 - 4 and then I extended them to be 6 months at a time. At his first birthday I brought all the books to his party and family sat and looked through all his photos and talked and discussed their memories all together. I had achieved what I wanted to, I was recreating my childhood memories of discussing photographs and keeping those memories alive in everyones minds. It also helped keep my photos organised on my hard drives and I love sitting down on the Sofa and picking a phonebook to look through. 

We also create a photo book for each family holiday and Logan even enjoys looking through the holidays he didn’t attend and listening to my stories about them. In the future I’m going to leave more empty spaces in the photobooks and have the children write down their favourite memory as soon as we come back from the holiday so it can be frozen in memory along with the photos. My father always encouraged me to do scrapbooks on holidays and collect memories in the form of park tickets, restaurant logo napkins and maps and write down what we did each day of the holiday, I think activities like this helped keep my memories present longer in my mind and made up the fond stories I share of my childhood. 

The final memory preserver rule I live by is trying to capture at least 3 seconds of film everyday of my children’s lives. For every birthday I then edit down the year footage into one second a video and create them a birthday summary of everything they have achieved, learnt, done and grown in the last year. I have enjoyed bringing the milestone cards into the video side of things and really capturing that moment forever like a live photograph. 

[Evie's one year video - the short version]

Milestone really helps capture that memory, moment and life with one photo.