Several women photographers have asked me how I manage to work as a photographer and still be a good, attentive and available mom. It seems almost like a moot point for me now, since my youngest is eighteen years old, but I find that I still try to incorporate my philosophies of photographing/parenting even now, just as I did when the kids were little. You must also remember that Max was already six by the time I recommitted to making photographs (after a fifteen year hiatus). Even so, I feel like I can throw a few thoughts into the ring.
From the minute they were able to hold a small camera somewhat steadily, look through its viewfinder and squeeze the shutter all at approximately the same time, I bestowed a point-and-shoot upon both my children. In Abbie’s case, she was about the same age I was when I found a Rocket Brownie in my hands, three. As soon as I gave it to her, we took her on a trip to Spain and France. Abbie took pictures constantly on that trip, wrote a bit of a journal, then proudly pasted the photos and her writings in a scrapbook. (This is a scan one of the pages of the treasured three ring plastic binder we gave her to use on that trip.) Photography instantly became a shared passion for the two of us. She and I could talk about our snapshots with one another, share them with friends and family together and hang out as a duo, a camera hanging from my neck and one from her little wrist, pursuing similar missions! When she was sixteen and I was seriously back into photography, we even went to Mexico together to do a workshop with Mary Ellen Mark.
(Luckily, both my kids liked photography from the start; I can honestly say, though, I haven’t met many kids who weren’t instantly intrigued and fascinated by it.)
As a little squirt, Max was in the darkroom with me, standing on a chair and helping me rock the trays. Both kids learned darkroom skills and attended photo workshops in Santa Fe and Rockport once they were old enough. Max got a photograph published in a cycling magazine (and got a check for $150.00!!) around the time I was first struggling to get things in print. Abbie’s portfolio was accepted into the international juried competition, Current Works, when she was just in high school, way before I ever succeeded in getting work into that exhibition. Indeed, we were all in this thing together! (And a little healthy competition added some spice and fun.)
I think that by sharing photography, the kids never felt that it was something that took me away from them. In fact, it actually brought us closer together. In my darkroom are two enlargers so that we could/can work in there together. To this day, I show them new pictures I've made, asking for their input and opinions.
Abbie continued on with her work, getting a degree in art/photography in college. Max abandoned it for other interests, so with him it was a bit more challenging. In his case, I decided to make pictures of whatever he was into. By bringing along my camera and making serious pictures at his horse-shows, of him and his friends, the concerts he played, and then… his races at the drag strip (!!) I showed him not only that I wanted to learn more about what he was doing, but that it was worth documenting on film, the importance of which he fully understood given the fact that he had been a photographer at one time.
(A drag strip is an improbable place for me to end up. I made the best of it by photographing Max racing, then wandering around trying to make my own meaningful pictures, demonstrating to Max that I was interested in what he was doing while also keeping myself satisfied. Best of all, he LOVED the images I made those nights!)
Alec Soth had an interesting thread on his blog about this very subject. He posed the question: what well-known photographers managed to be good parents as well? Scroll down to the post from 9/26/06. It, as well as the comments, is worth reading. (By the way, if you are not a reader of his blog and you are a photographer or photo entusiast, I urge you to bookmark it.)
Of course, none of this would have worked out so well if I had not had the unwavering support of my husband, Eddie. During all those countless hours I was in the darkroom and now at the computer, he stepped/steps up to the plate. When I pack up and hit the road for Poland, Mexico or Uganda for photo trips, he is the one who stays behind and keeps the fires burning. Whenever I attend a workshop, review or seminar, he’s here at home to hold down the fort - 100%.
It’s definitely a group effort, but then, what about having/being a family isn’t?