“The great thing about real life is that it belongs to you. You can make it up as you go along!” ― Victoria Ashton
Sham of the Perfect is a collaborative photography project made up of an international collection of photographers who are passionate about both family documentary photography and being parents. The project’s name is inspired by the poem A Spring Issue, by Sarah Dunning Park. Our intent is to tear down the sham of perfection shown in more idyllic work and present life, parenthood, families, childhood, and home as it actually is; full of flaws and full of beauty simultaneously.
2019 will be my 5th year contributing to this project. Here are my photos from 2018, mapping our year in weekly images.
Want to document your real life moments?
I may not be able to follow you around all day every day, but I do offer Day In The Life sessions, helping you to capture the small but important moments with your family. Click here to get in touch and learn more.
If you’re a parent, you know one totally cliche thing without question: that kids grow up way too fast. You know that phases are fleeting and that yesterday’s cute Fireman outfit is tomorrow’s slam dunk in the front yard. You know that coloring around the kitchen table is all-too-soon met with a turned-up nose and a closed bedroom door, and that little hands and feet, so soft to the touch, eventually become big and dirty and not-so-nice smelling. If you’ve spoken to anyone whose kids have grown, you’ll also know that almost all of the things that we complain about when our kids are little, are problems and moments we yearn for when they walk out the door to college, leaving us in our tidy homes with all the free time we ever wanted to go workout and look cute in jeans and watch our favorite tv show undisturbed.
My daughter is only eight and I remember holding her hand on the way to the first day of kindergarten, purposefully memorizing the way her sweaty little palm felt against mine, small and soft and holding on tight. Now she’ll hold my hand to cross the street only if I ask but will quickly whip it away once we reach the other side. It’s little moments like that and so many more where we feel the pull-and-tug of past and future working through us.
And so a Day In The Life session is a way to freeze all those little tiny things of ordinary today, that seem insignificant or annoying or imperfect right now, to preserve them for those moments when we’re sitting on the couch in a quiet house wishing we could hear tiny feet running down the hallway.
This is a Day In The Life of The Patterson Family. Four children, two busy and tired parents, cats, dogs, and chickens. Sleepy, dark mornings, dance parties on mom and dad’s bed, a park date so mom can take a shower, and a kitchen table that doubles as an art space and a kid sofa. God, I wish I had photos like this of my own childhood.
Day In Your Life sessions are my favorite sessions to shoot. Everyone has time to relax and forget about the camera. Beautiful, real life doesn’t need fancy outfits or planned activities; it just happens. Get in touch if you want to learn more.
Sometimes life doesn’t work out exactly as you planned. Or even, in some cases, at all how you planned. You fall in love, get married, buy a house… you’re living the dream. And then almost as quickly as your dream was realized, it dissolves into a million tiny pieces and you find yourself trying to find a container for as many of those fragments as you can before they slip through your fingers entirely.
Which is the moment in time when I stepped into Miranda Ables’ life, earlier this year. Miranda had won my Our Story competition, nominated by a friend who was inspired by her positive attitude and resilience in the face of many challenges. A single mom with two daughters, Miranda was dealing with the aftermath of two divorces and resulting, separate custody battles, right about the time that her youngest, Mia, was diagnosed with Acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
Now a single mom, juggling two, separate custody schedules, Mia’s doctors visits, and coordinating her medical care with a father in another household with whom relations are strained, plus the pressures of trying to keep a job when your daughter’s treatments and care require a large amount of work flexibility that isn’t readily available, Miranda’s friend, Bernadette, wrote this about her when nominating her for the Our Story experience,
“Even through all of these trials she comes to church every Sunday and sings and plays piano before the congregation and is grateful for all that she has, not hateful of what she does not or all that is happening.”
It’s a lot to handle, and the intricacies of her situation, as I found out, are more complex and stressful than a summary blog-post could ever capture. But, as Bernadette says, I found Miranda to be full of light and laughter and happiness, in a way that was truly humbling. When we met for our session earlier this year, Mia was in recovery after some heavy chemotherapy, her hair growing out, and her sassy energy back. We spent some time enjoying Mia’s new bedroom (recently renovated by the charity The Sweet Dreams Foundation) along with her older sister, Loriah, and then took a walk to the neighborhood play area for some swing time.
Mia, I found, is a lot like my own daughter, with a mature demeanor and a love for pretend restaurant and school games. In fact, I found myself having several moments of deja vu as I was served plastic croissants and donuts periodically throughout my visit. (Thank goodness they weren’t real or I’d have been stuffed.) As a trio, the Ables girls are fun, genuine, thoughtful, and kind and, despite all the stresses, Miranda has succeeded in making a warm and happy place for them all to call home.
Although life is not perfect and often not easy, these girls showed to me what resilience looks like. It looks like playing and cuddling and laughing and running and climbing and just being together. When nothing else is going as planned, the ordinary becomes extraordinary and full of gratitude.
I love the adoptive families I work with through Red Thread Sessions and I especially loved this at-home session with the W family who just welcomed their second adoptive child. We shared some of their favorite, simple moments: breakfast made by dad, piano practice, baseball in the back yard, and making apple crisp for a get together they had with friends that evening. So much love and lots of precious memories they’ll bring out in 20 years, recalling what it was like to have two little ones.
If you know a local family who has recently adopted, or who would like to capture any part of their adoption journey, please have them contact me as I offer free sessions for adoptive families.
The Witters and I have been working together for a few years now. I first photographed them and their eldest son, Caden, in a family session, then they came to one of my mini sessions, and finally I captured mom, Lindsay, for her actor head shots. Recently, they’ve been busy welcoming a new member of the family, their daughter Avery.
After saying “awwww” to probably the 100th picture of Avery online, I approached Lindsay with my vision for a family session. They had just bought a beautiful home in El Dorado Hills, Avery was doing well, Lindsay was heading back to work, and Caden was officially entering “big boy” status. It was time to take a moment to pause and reflect at this new moment in their life. In their new family unit of 4, I asked Lindsay what the family loves to do together on a Sunday morning. She mentioned playing with the kids and snuggling on their bed in their beautiful new master bedroom.
So we did all that.
What I love most about this session is the connection. And the fact that it was all totally, 100% completely unscripted. The only interaction I had with everyone was just chatting about life and catching up on the couple of years since we’d last seen one another. This, all this really good stuff, the hugs, the loving looks, the kisses, the smiles, the laughter… that’s all them. It was already there. My camera and I just came to watch for a couple of hours.
Thank you for Lindsay, Ken, Caden, and Avery for allowing me this glimpse into their home life. I’m always so incredibly amazed that people allow me to do this for a living. Seeing others loving, living, and laughing, makes my own life just that little bit fuller.
“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost.”
― Martha Graham
This month’s collage is missing a couple of days when I was in San Francisco and only took my film camera with me. The thing only has 36 exposures but I swear if feels like 100. I never seem to get to the end of the roll. So, for now, March will remain incomplete (until the roll of film is.)
I'm Michelle and I love vampires (before they were cool), peanut butter and that deliciously off-balance feeling you get when you step off a plane in a new country. I'm also a mum, a writer and a visual storyteller.
Click here to learn more about all that.
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