The real life; beautiful ordinary artefacts, and why unposed photography is an investment in forever. Or: What real treasure looks like, with Geelong and Melbourne photographer, Michelle McKay
When I was small, my dad took photographs.
I guess you could call him an original family documentarian; he didn’t just take photos of clean kids siting neatly on the porch, or in front of the church before Sunday School.
He took photographs of everything.
My toddler brother in his high chair, eating Vegemite toast.
Me and my sister picking mandarins off the fruit tree in the backyard, or shelling peas at the picnic table with mum.
The washing line, heavy with tiny pastel singlets and cloth nappies on washing day, stark whites flapping lazily in the sunny breeze.
He photographed my uncle reading Dr Seuss to all the cousins, us kids playing in the trailer at twilight after a trip to the tip,
riding our trikes around the sprinkler in the heaving heart of summer, my mum tidying the bedroom in her Ugg boots, and everyone lounging in their knickers in the shade of nana’s caravan during family vacation.
We have posed photographs too, but now I’m grown that candid stuff is something special.
Throughout my life and to this day, the hours I’ve spent pouring over those images is testament to the treasure they truly are. I like to look at them. They tell me stories.
They tell me MY stories.
What our yard looked like.
The way my mum’s hand rested so naturally in the small of my back when I was small and still learning to toddle.
The clothes we would wear, and the sandals, and how whispy my hair would get when it had just been brushed.
How adored I was by my big sister - that same way she has always, always looked at me.
What it looked like when we went camping, what it looked like when we washed the dishes, what it looked like when we lazed on the perpetually unfinished back veranda with the cat.
It’s like an accidental archive; a visual history of my life before I could remember it.
A clue to all the things that combine to make me who I am today.
I bet if you think back to your favourite childhood photographs, they’re the same as mine.
I bet you too have spent time studying them.
Marvelling at how you once fit so snuggly in the crook of your dad’s arm.
Running a finger over a photo of the old family sofa, where a tiny you sat beaming, cradling a far-too-big-for-your-lap new baby sister.
Smiling at slightly out of focus shag pile carpet with a pang of nostalgia, as you recollect the many hours you spent there building legos, racing Matchbox cars, and chasing the crabby old calico cat.
We’ll never remember being a tiny newborn, sleeping in our parents’ arms.
We’ll not recall what our first bedroom looked like, or what life was like when we were two, or the way we looked propped proudly up on dad’s shoulders.
The memories of the living room and the kitchen and the ugly green tiled bathroom in which we spent our first five years will pass, the tree you once climbed with your sister will be cut down, and that precious china cup from which your mama used to let you drink your cocoa will be dropped and cracked one morning on your way to the sink, its memory fading with the removal of the trash.
Except of course, if you take the picture.
The real picture.
The ones of real life.
Pictures that proudly make a record of this beautiful ordinary.
For you, but perhaps even more so, for your kids.
Consider: which photographs would you most wish you had today of your own childhood..?