Sometimes you accept a photography assignment without considering the sheer importance of what you’re doing or even how much what you’re doing really means to the client.
As a photographer, unless you know the clients personally, you’re a spectator with little to no emotional involvement to the action. You turn up and do your very best thing and deliver that very best thing to the paying client. They’re happy and you’re happier that they’re happy.
Of course, all assignments are important, but on occasion it’s not until later that you fully start to realise the weight of importance of the job. Such is the case with this one.
I met Pippa Bonny last year through a mutual friend and agreed to do some work for her without charge but on the proviso that she would get me paying clients. In the months that followed, Pippa, true to her word became a gateway through which many opportunities came my way and for that I will be forever grateful. Before Christmas, I had the pleasure of photographing her family which is what led me to the session on the 9th of June.
I live a relatively short distance away from my family and discounting my brother who lives with his lovely wife in Chile, I can be with them in under 2 hours. There are no major family reunions because seeing them all is easy and overall, convenient and get togethers are frequent. This wasn’t the same for Pippa.
Growing up in Manchester during the 70’s then moving to Kent (Pippa was raised down South), as time passed, the family gradually splintered off into different directions, with some moving back to Manchester, others moving to Bognor, Surrey and others moving as far as Perth, Australia. Thanks be to the wonders of modern technology they were able to maintain contact but were not able to see each other face to face. Until the 9th.
I was asked to photograph this reunion as it was the first time the family had ever been together in one place in…forever. With so much change and so much to catch up on, they arranged a weekend of activities including walks, meals out, lots of shopping and a water park for the children. As someone who sees his family regularly, I can only imagine what this must have meant.
There was laughter, tears and old memories shared. There were long embraces, anecdotes and new memories made. Relationships were strengthened, and bittersweet goodbyes exchanged as family members prepared to cross the ocean to make their way home or make the long drive across the tarmac to cities not too far away. One single weekend in forever. Family members divided by great distances. No love lost.
So back to me. My brief was scant; “take pictures of a bunch of people you haven’t met in a public place”. I got creative and filled in the blanks by visiting the location (a country pub with a lovely beer garden) and finding ‘sweet spots’ – attractive places to shoot according to my plan. As much as I wanted candid shots, I also wanted to make the most of this unique opportunity and get a large group photograph with everyone together.
The day was fun and as much as I was a spectator, I was immediately pulled in by everyone’s warm and welcome. The children, who I thought would be shy and need ‘warming up’ were quick to show off and play. I spent time with them as they jumped around, rolled in the grass and playfully posed with their parents watching and smiling nearby. I found a different spot to photograph Pippa’s siblings with their own families as well as getting her grandparents together with their siblings. I even got the chance to recreate an image that was taken when they were children many years ago.
A definite highlight was asking Pippa’s 9-year-old daughter Katie to be my assistant. I have realised that sometimes, the best way to engage children is to give them some responsibility. I asked Katy to organise people into poses and like a true professional, she jumped at the chance, bossing her grandparents around with such endearing authority. At one point, they all joined hands and sang Auld Lang Syne much to little Katie’s bemusement. It was a charming sight, but it was impossible to miss the depth of love and affection among them.
This is what I was here to photograph – family members separated by years and distance, reconciled for a single weekend. My photographs mattered; not for my sake but for that “remember when” moment; when years from now as familial longings pull at the heart, they can look back at the children playing and drinks shared and say, “remember June 9th when we were all together?”.
After I edited the images, I gathered them all into a large collage and placed it, along with all the images onto a disk so each member could have one to print and hang on their wall – a beautiful reminder of a truly special weekend.
I was a spectator made to feel welcome by strangers who crossed great distances to be together. Having given Pippa her images, she was happy, but the truth is, having been a part of all of this, I’m even happier that she and her family are happy.
Until the next time ?