Cat Thrasher: Jim + Lulu + The Importance of Imperfect Snapshots

Jim + Lulu at Riverview Park
Charlottesville, Virginia
January 2013
Hasselblad + Kodak Portra 400 film

There's nothing perfect about the photograph above. In fact, there was not one perfect picture among the three rolls of film that I shot on this family outing last month. But this one emerged as my favorite shot. Here's why I did not disregard it in my grand cull of the day's pictures, and why it's so important to me:

First, Jim looks incredibly handsome here, and his face is the first place that my eye goes when I look at the shot. I know that he's smiling for the camera, but you can also tell that he's having a genuinely fun time, because of the authenticity of his smile and ease of his gaze. He loves to be out and about with Lulu, and he's always in the current moment during outings like this one. His face says that to me, here: that he's all-present, not thinking about work or money or life stress. All he's thinking about is Lulu on his shoulders, the running river behind him, the sun-filled landscape, and the wind in his hair.

Then, my eye goes straight to Lulu's turned head. While some might delete  the picture during a grand edit due to this head-turn, that's actually the moment that my love for the picture is solidified: it's a true Lulu moment. Lulu loves to be stimulated (and distracted) by her environment. She likes to discover new things and meet new people and fall in love with things around her. We had just arrived at the park in the shot, and she was enthralled with the sight of it: children playing frisbee, birds chirping, the Rivanna flowing fast behind her - there was so much to look at and encounter!

And then, as if to accentuate the active mind and short attention span of an energetic toddler, the wind picked up her hair and smothered her face with it, replacing our view of her face with a view of her little ear, in a moment of chaos right before I clicked the shutter. That burst of wind adds much drama to her pose and emphasizes the turn of her attention and fascination with all things around her.

Overall, the picture turned into a "posed candid," because even though I posed them, something happened, out of my control, that made the picture even better. With the ease at which digital photography allows us to capture more and more perfectly framed pictures, the imperfect ones begin to shine through to me the most. At the very least, a shot needs to have a unique element to be remembered in our minds. Or, as Alexander Liberman stated in the forward to Passage:

"Photography needs to be dramatized more than any other medium. The world is inundated with images that seem to blur gray in our minds. For a picture to strike memory, it has to have an unusual unique, inherent secret - a visual signature."

This shot has that inherent secret, that visual signature: the dramatic turn of Lulu's attention. It's important to keep these pictures in our archives, because no photographer can plan these tiny moments of authenticity, making the few we do get priceless pieces of family art!

About Cat Thrasher, based in Charlottesville, Virginia: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Contact

Cat is a co-founder and regular contributor to Little Bellows. This post was originally featured on Cat's blog, March 3rd, 2013.