A Time for Brothers


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Like many photographers, I practice my craft at home. I use my children to play with lighting, effects, and staging. Sometimes I have them pose for pictures, but more often try to capture their daily lives through reportage, snapping away as they’re doing something as mundane as eating breakfast or coming home from school. My sons have taught me a great deal about photographing children, and how to establish the necessary distance to create an intimate portrait. They may also be two of the most photographed boys I’ve ever known.

A Tale of Two Brothers

David is fifteen now, and running away from childhood as fast as his long legs will carry him. Andrew is only four and has yet to experience the years of wonder just ahead. They are brothers, and they are my precious sons.

It can be a challenge to balance the needs of a teenager with those of a preschooler. David lives on a planet inhabited by friends, fashion, and an unshakeable need to do things in his own way. Andrew looks for dogs to pat and revels in parental attention. There is a wide chasm of open space between them, forged by a difference in age that can’t be bridged by the obvious affection they have for each other. How can I capture the bond, and the gap, in a photograph?

An Afternoon in the Park

I took my boys to the park with a basketball and their bicycles. Andrew was still using training wheels and David was riding a low-slung three-wheeler that placed him at eyelevel with his younger brother. I was immediately struck by their symmetry, ostensibly so different yet moving on the same level in their own unique way.

I chose to shoot in black and white because I didn’t want the distraction of colour. I was looking for contrasts, and all the shades of grey that lie between brotherhood and friendship. At first, David rode on ahead, but I caught the moment where he reached out to steady Andrew as he came alongside. That was the story I was trying to tell, the ebb and flow of a relationship marked by distance but bonded in blood.

They laughed a lot that day, my two sons who like to argue and seem to have so little in common. Andrew loved our impromptu game of basketball, no less than his older brother who was happy to show off his skills. I knew that these moments were rare, when they were both engaged in the same activity and enjoying it in equal measure. I wanted to catch the unselfconscious delight in David’s dribbling, and Andrew’s sheer joy at being included.

 

My older son may soon forget that afternoon in the park, and the little one has surely moved on to the memory of more recent adventures. It’s still fresh in my mind, however, as much because of what it taught me about my craft as what it said about my children.

The first lesson was that it’s okay to involve yourself when you’re photographing kids. My own children tend to be more aware of the camera than most, and playing with them made recording the day’s events much easier. I also learned that black and white photography forces you to focus nuances in every frame, as the image won’t be saved by a pretty background or flash of colour. It’s stark, it’s pared, and it’s very real. Finally, I was reminded that relationships are complicated, at times painful, but always ours and ever fascinating.

 

Tags: Photography | Siblings | Photographing Children | Black and White Photography