A Day in the Life of the Clark Family, Atlanta Family Photographer

Summer Days

image of a mother smiles at her son in a public pool while her daughter hangs on her shoulder from a day in the life photography session

There’s something extra nostalgic about summer, of long, hot days of bandaids and pool trips that end in relaxed evenings of puzzles and books. These are the days where memories are made. I got to spend the day with one of my favorite families this summer. I’ve photographed them many times before, but I have never photographed them for a whole day. For me, spending the whole day with a family is the perfect recipe of time and trust that is required to show you that I see you and to hold space for this time in your family’s life in artistic, honest photographs. Here’s what Tanya had to say about the experience:

“Atlanta's recent weather seems to have given us a sneak peek into the fall season and I cannot wait. This past summer was an especially hot one. Shorter days, cooler nights and the anticipation and promise of all the holidays are just around the corner and make me giddy with excitement. All that to say this past summer was also an especially memorable one. We don't typically send the kids to camp when school lets out for no other reason than that we either miss the deadline to sign them up or we don't even put it on our radar because we didn't grow up going to summer camp.

Some of my favorite memories of my own childhood summers are the ones where we didn't do anything planned. I grew up in Florida and had the privilege of having our own pool at home, as most Floridians do. The days were lazy and would be spent swimming, reading, running errands with my mom and watching far too much television. My siblings and I would complain about being bored while also eating an unlimited amount of Fruit Loops for breakfast, lunch and dinner. In short, summers were the time when most of the regimented schedules of the school year were tossed aside. And we loved it.

For the last four years, Kaleen has been a fly on the wall in our home starting with the first week of Akira's life. She's met extended families from both sides, been a part of birthdays and comes over to document holiday visits. I consider her to be one of my closest friends here in Atlanta and am so grateful for her eyes that capture all of the in-between spaces that we often overlook. I knew she did "Day in the Life" sessions and while I always admired them from afar, I admittedly was nervous about the idea of someone, even a close friend, being privy to all the ins and outs of our daily life. An entire day, from sun-up to sun-down was intimidating. Would my kids act out and then have a meltdown because they were tired of "performing" for the camera? Would they be too intensely aware they were being watched? Could I be vulnerable enough to show how tired I am? How frustrated I could be? But the most important question I had was: is our real life as beautiful as I want to believe it is?

Enter: Kaleen and her magical camera. Groceries needed to be done, laundry needed to be folded, kids needed to be napped, meals needed to be made. But I also wanted to spend the day at the pool to find respite from the heat and possibly get some ice cream. So that is exactly what we did. With Kaleen in tow, we drove around town, ate sushi to-go and took Lego Spiderman to the pool. Our dog never warmed up to the camera and we couldn't really have a proper sit-down family dinner because that's life and sometimes, you're feeding children and standing around the kitchen island picking at their leftovers. Even though she spent the whole day with us, I couldn't be sure what perspective she was having into our nuclear life. But I never once felt like I was under a microscope. It's strange, isn't it? To be documented but not feel like I'm being watched. Instead, I felt like I had spent the day with a friend (because that's what I did!) who happened to take photos at seemingly random moments. She always engaged with the kids and throughout the day, we had our own conversations on life and our respective families and experiences. And isn't that the whole point?

As humans, we are constantly searching for connections with each other. We all want to be able to relate to one another, to empathize and be understood. Most importantly, I think we all want to be seen. We want to be acknowledged and validated in the work we do, whether that's by getting a promotion at work or even having someone simply tell you you're doing a good job when you feel like you're too overwhelmed or tired or invisible. Kaleen saw what I often times forget to see: we are all doing our best. Even when our best seems so ordinary, to the ones we love, our best is nothing short of extraordinary.”

Click on the slideshow above or check out the photos below.

image of a family in a kitchen preparing breakfast from a day in the life photography session
image of a bowl of cereal and spiderman lego toys from a day in the life photography session
image of a girl drinking milk out of a bowl of cereal from a day in the life photography session
image of a boy standing on a cart in front of a long line of carts from a day in the life photography session
image of a boy sitting in a cart playing with a spiderman toy in a grocery store from a day in the life photography session
image of a boy sitting in a cart playing with a spiderman toy while his sister reads the grocery list on a phone and his mom grabs food out of a freezer in a grocery store from a day in the life photography session
an image of a girl leaving a grocery store from a day in the life photography session
image of a girl helping buckle her little brother into his carseat from a day in the life photography session
image of a mother carrying all the bags of groceries into her home from a day in the life photography session
image of a boy playing with tinsel hanging in a doorway from a day in the life photography session
image of a girl hanging from her father's neck smiling from a day in the life photography session
image of a boy biting into a sushi roll from a day in the life photography session
image of a boy getting sunscreen applied to his face from a day in the life photography session
image of a mother laughing while applying sunscreen on her daughter from a day in the life photography session
image of a family getting into a pool from a day in the life photography session
image of a mother with her two children in the pool from a day in the life photography session
image of a girl smiling underwater from a day in the life photography session
image of a girl swimming in a pool from a day in the life photography session
image of a girl drying off on a towel on concrete at a pool from a day in the life photography session
image of a mother looking over her son who is drying off on a towel at the pool from a day in the life photography session
image of two children on two different couches from a day in the life photography session
image of a boy holding onto his sister's leg while looking at her from a day in the life photography session
image of a mom smiling at her son who has his arms up in triumph after finishing a puzzle from a day in the life photography session
image of a bandaid being pulled off a boy's elbow from a day in the life photography session
image of a mother looking at her daughter who is eating dinner at the table from a day in the life photography session
image of a girl making a funny face at her dad during dinner from a day in the life photography session
image of a dog coming out from under the table licking his face from a day in the life photography session
image of a mom doing dishes while listening to her daughter who is reading at the kitchen island from a day in the life photography session
image of a dad playing with his son during dinner from a day in the life photography session
image of a mother and daughter reading together from a day in the life photography session

A morning with the Bolton family, Atlanta Family Photographer

On breathing

A father holds an oxygen tube near his son's face

When Colleen and Derek’s twins were born, I offered to come photograph their family whenever they were ready. I spent a morning with them soon after Dylan got to come home, and I am still breathing in the gratitude and love that I got to experience in their home that day. I’m always amazed by the families I photograph, and this family taught me more than they will know. One of the first things I noticed when I was hanging out in the kitchen was the Mommy Sticker Chart hanging on the fridge that serves as a reminder to take a deep breath. It reminded me of these words Colleen had recently shared.

“Two hundred seventy-one days is a long time to hold your breath. If you do the math that’s June 19th. I tried to hit the brakes but it was too late. My water, Dylan’s protection and lifeline, broke. A stupid, minor, avoidable collision that changed the course of my life and almost took my sons from me. For days I was inconsolable. Then I felt God tell me to chill out. Literally, what I heard in my heart was “chill out.” So I did. But I held my breath. People would say, “Twins!! Are you excited?” How do you answer that? I can’t explain to every person who asks about my pregnancy that I have no idea if I will ever get to brings these boys home. So I smiled and said, “I’m so excited!” And I held my breath.

September 26 I went into labor. My body, my boys, had held on as long as we could. Dylan had been growing without amniotic fluid for 3 months. They pulled Dylan out first. He made no sound. He couldn’t breathe. The doctor resuscitated him and got him on a ventilator. The ventilator was breathing for him but his lungs were so fragile that one of them tore. Can you imagine? Your lungs being so fragile that just inhaling air rips a hole in one of them. They switched him to an oscillator which allowed him to take fast shallow breaths. On the oscillator his body wasn’t getting rid of the CO2. His lungs collapsed multiple times. Somehow, the doctors, nurses, and respiratory therapists found the right combination of support to allow his fragile, tiny lungs to do the job they were created to do and to keep my son alive. But I still held my breath.

I do not understand prayer. My village prayed, fasted and negotiated with God to let my sons live. I begged Him not to take my boys from me. Did we pray harder or more faithfully than anyone else would have under similar circumstances? Certainly not. I do not know why God chose to let my boys live. But I do know the choice was His. The grace was His. The mercy, the healing- His.

Today, for the first time in a very long time, I can breathe. And with every breath I will be grateful. With every breath I will work to extend the grace and mercy that was bestowed on me. With every inhale and exhale I will love. I will love.

When I think about how close to death Dylan came and how close to unimaginable grief I came I have to remind myself to breathe. But I can breathe. Today, I can hold my son in my arms with his dad and siblings nearby. And I can breathe.” —Colleen Bolton

Click on the slideshow to see images from the session or scroll down for more.

papers hanging on a fridge from a documentary family photography session
a mother puts a bow in her daughter's hair and the girl has her mouth open in a painful expression
a man with scars on his knees sits on a bed near his twin boys
twin babies lie down on a bed one is looking at the other
a father and his older daughter care for a baby boy
A girl plays on a changing table in between two cribs
a toddler puts her hand on her baby brother's head as he is being fed a bottle by his mother
A mother and father feed their twin sons in their nursery while their daughters play in the boys' cribs
a girl sits on a bed looking at her baby brother
A mother holds her baby son and looks at him
A mother puts her hand on her son's face as he looks at the camera
A mother holds her infant son in the corner of a living room as her two daughters play on their own
two girls climb on a fence
A father embraces his daughter and smiles
a father holds open a grill and a mother sits on a chair as they watch their daughters play in their backyard
a couple embraces in their backyard
a father holds his daughter who is reaching out and pointing to her smiling mother in a playful way
An infant boy looks up at his mom who has her hand on him
a girl wearing a shirt that says sister squad leans back against a table and smiles
a family lounges on a couch in their living room
A father holds his arms up ready to catch his daughter who is walking towards him on the couch
A mother holds her twin baby as a father holds a drink while being crawled on by his daughters
A mother and father hold their twin sons
A baby sits in a rocker and looks up at the camera
A girl stands on an ottoman in front of a dinosaur poster with a dinosaur toy in her mouth

The way I see it...a look behind the scenes of a documentary family photography session with me

To help people better understand what a documentary family photography session is like, I joined a group of amazing photographers here in Atlanta who use the same approach. We decided to photograph each other while we work to show what a documentary family photography session looks like behind the scenes.

Barbara (from Barbara Naso Photography) photographed me while I was photographing Kristin’s family (from Kristin Watkins Photography). It was a whole lot of fun and the results have gotten me thinking more about why I am obsessed with both having my family photographed and photographing other people’s families. You can check out Part 1 of this blog series on what it feels like to be seen. For Part 2, I want to show you the way I see it, why I wouldn’t want to photograph families any other way.

Part 2: Seeing you

A mom brushes her daughter's hair as she cuddles a dog who is being pet by her brother who is petting another dog who is also being pet by a different sister

I see you. You as a family, and you as the individuals who make up the family. When you invite me into your home and go about living your life as you would any other day, I get to really see your family in a way that I wouldn’t if we were at a location that I chose or doing activities that I came up with. I want the images from our time together to be as accurate as they can be in depicting your family life. I want you to look at your images and think, “This is us.”

Of course, there’s always a bit of me in there too, as I am bringing my own experiences and ideas to the frames that I photograph, but I work hard to let my curiosity about your family lead me. From our very first conversations before the session I am looking for clues about what makes your family you.

Every family is different. I want your photos to be too.

What makes your family different? What values bring you together? What are your struggles? What brings you joy? How do you spend your days? What are your routines? What is meal time like? I love the nuances of family life that make your people your people.

When Kristin brought out the hair bucket and summoned Lucy to get her hair done, I knew this was a ritual that needed to be captured. The hair bucket, the way the feet are intertwined, and the expressions are all elements in this image that I hope these two will look back on with loads of nostalgia in many years.

A mom brushes her daughter's hair as she sits on her lap
Kaleen photographs family hanging out in the kitchen during documentary family photography session

I’m comfortable observing. I’m comfortable listening. I hate telling people what to do, so this approach makes perfect sense for me. I may be lurking in the shadows at times, and I may not always be taking pictures, but I am paying attention. Waiting. Thinking. Framing. As I am with you, I will most likely respond to your energy.

I laughed pretty much throughout my whole time with Kristin’s family. Their casual, playful, and witty conversation kept us all cracking up. And then I saw it, posted in the dining room, a sign that read, “Laughter is and will always be the best form of therapy.” THAT is what I wanted to capture around that table.

Kaleen laughs with a family during documentary family photography session
A family sits around a table laughing
A girl yells in her sister's face while a mother cuddles her son at the same table

I want to show you what you can’t see. When you are holding someone in your arms, you can’t see the smile on their face. When you are playing with your kids, you get to hear their joy, but you don’t always get to see it.

I want you to have pictures that remind you how it felt to provide comfort, security, and entertainment.

I want your kids to have pictures that leave no question about how they are loved, cared for, and delighted in. Images that will remind them of their place in their family when external circumstances try to shake their confidence.

A mother holds her son who is smiling
A man holds a boy in his arms in a playful wrestle hold as his daughter and dog play nearby
A girl runs with a leash as her mom chases after her

It’s hard. Family life. Parenting. Being in relationship with people for a lifetime. I come with no judgement (well, that’s impossible, but I work hard to be aware of my judgements and suspend them in order to hold space for you and your family and the moment in your story that I get to witness).

I’m always looking for the ways you relate. To your siblings. To your sons and daughters. To your pets. To your spouse. To the space you live in. It’s all very fascinating and inspiring to me.

It is an honor to get to see you. It’s a gift to learn from you.

a daughter stands behind her parents in the kitchen and places a hand on each other their backs
Kaleen photographs boy hugging dog during documentary family photography session
A boy sits on a couch with his arms around a large dog
Kaleen photographs boy lying down petting a dog during documentary family photography session
A boy puts his hand on a dog's head as they both lie on the ground facing each other
A mother looks at her daughter who is smiling at her
a dog watches incredulously as a boy and girl play tug of war with his dog toy
Kaleen stands on the couch to photograph boys wrestling during documentary family photography session
Two brothers wrestle on the couch

There are no excuses. This is the easiest way to have your family photographed. There are no matching clothes to coordinate, no rush out the door to get somewhere on time, no agenda. You don’t have to clean your house or bribe your kids or partners to behave. You get to just be together as a family, and I get to show you what it looks like and feels like to be you. I have yet to photograph a family that I haven’t fallen completely in love with. There hasn’t been one time where I wasn’t excited to show a family their images and say, “You guys are awesome. Look at YOU!” Even when I have photographed families in unfathomably difficult situations, these are my thoughts when I deliver the images. Because family is everything, in the good times, in the bad times, and in all the super ordinary boring in between times. Celebrate it. Print it. Remember it.

A man sits on a chair with his daughter on his lap as his son leans into him and his wife gives him a kiss

Please check out the other posts in this blog circle, starting with Kristin’s photographs of Barbara’s family.

And for goodness sake, get on with booking a session with one of us. It’s an investment that increases in value as time passes.