On Selfies and Motherhood

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Until Nathalie brought it up, I had never given much thought to the selfie. Largely because I don’t see very many, with my kids too young to selfie and me too old to know people who do. In theory, I don’t see much wrong with a selfie, or even a load of them, although in practice wouldn’t it get dull fairly fast?

As for me? No, I don’t selfie. It hadn’t occurred to me to, but because I gave it some thought because of this blog, I can now illustrate more reasons why not.

Remember the foster kittens I mentioned?  Well, the last one was finally released from the vet yesterday and he returned to my house. I assumed the reunion with his siblings would be a happy one.  Then, as I was about to sit down to dinner with the kids (husband works nights), I heard myself say, “I smell cat poo.”

Frozen, I sniffed again. “I think it’s on you.”  I pointed to middle son, seated at the table.

“I don’t have cat poo on me,” he said, as if I were ridiculous.

My eyes scanned down until I saw the blobs and smears on his shirt. I helped him take it off and went upstairs to the toilet to scrape, wash, soak (and silently cuss).  I was drying my hands when middle son walked up the stairs, swinging his pants.

“What are you doing?”

“My pants smell like poo, so I took them off.”

“Stop swinging them then! You could be flinging the poo everywhere.”

“They just smell like poo,” he said patiently, “they don’t have poo on them.”

But of course they did, all across the middle section. I scraped, washed and soaked that up too, then searched for the cats. I caught the culprit, and cleaned her up. What could cause such strange behaviour? Perhaps her brother’s return stressed her?

I finally return to stiff risotto and soggy salad but before I sit, the boys point to the couch: “There’s poo there too.” What? I walk tentatively over. It’s everywhere! All over my iPad case, the floor and who knows where else? Stop moving! I cry. The two youngest have stepped in it and trekking it around.

One is sent hobbling on his heels to the bathroom; I carry the other. I run the bath, and quarantine all the kittens in the bathroom. I go back to the kitchen and start cleaning all the disgustingness. My youngest is three; I thought I was done with this nonsense.  By now, to avert contamination, my eldest is basically standing on his chair.

The doorbell rings. Seriously?  I hate solicitations anyway, but never more than now. I am so going to send the person away, or maybe we can just pretend we’re not here.  Except all the lights are on and she can see me through the window in the door.

Arg! It’s the Toronto Environmental Alliance, and I actually want to support them and have done for years. I tell her that I have to clean up cat poo and it’s everywhere and can she please come back in 10 minutes. I go back to cleaning up the cat crap in the kitchen and then notice I am getting dripped on. I look up.  O.M.G.

I run upstairs and my youngest is bailing water out of the bathtub onto the floor and the flood is leaking through to the kitchen below.  I freak out, just as effectively as I have every other time he’s done it. Only his size prevents me from flushing him down the toilet.

Cut! I could continue, but why bother. You get the picture.  There’s not a word of a lie, and it’s only a bit more outrageous than many a night around here.

Why would I selfie this??

And yet…

Anyone who’s into it could tell you that parenthood is equal parts gore and glory, and they trade places with schizophrenic alacrity.

For today I took my youngest to the beach, in search for his brothers who were spending the day there with their school.  It should come as a surprise to no one that I could not find them, but all was not lost, not at all. My baby has been asking me for days to go to the beach, and we were finally here. Just us two. Instead of trailing along for his brothers’ events, my youngest took centre stage. We played at the beach, and I gave him the best that I have: my full attention.

It was gorgeous outside and in, and I took quite a few pics of him with my phone to record it.

And then: I took a selfie.

IMG_20150623_142133Lopsided pony tail, wisps of hair flying with the wild wind, sporting gold rimmed sunglasses found in the car and almost certainly bought by my husband from the thrift store along with 15 others as a joke three Christmas dinners ago.  Retro is in again, and I think I could actually look pretty cool in those shades if only my face were 40% bigger.

I had a sense of what I looked like, but I took the selfie (and some selfies with my little son) anyway.  I took it because on that beach I had survived the day before and was still standing there in the sand, in the present – truly, madly, deeply. I took it because there was no one else to take it, and that wasn’t good enough. I took it because when my son looks at pictures of this stunning day, I want him to know that I was there too, that I looked at all the rocks he showed me, that we dug for pirate treasure together, and that I gave him my sweater when the windblown sand stung his skin.

I took the selfie because I was satisfied, and I wanted to remember it.

What We Leave Out of Photos

I’m of the old school that believes photographs should flatter the subject.  This makes it extraordinarily difficult for me to really get the aesthetic of Eldest’s THOUSANDS of selfies of his nostrils.  And when I say “get” what I really mean is “not totally hate.”

I will probably go to my grave without ever taking a selfie from below with my nostrils as the main subject, but then again, I can count on one hand the number of selfies I have ever taken.  I am the family photographer, so I am usually behind the lens.  I guess that means that one of the most significant things that gets left out of my photos is myself.

I just have no urge to photograph myself from arm’s length (or a selfie stick’s length).  I like to photograph others, and I like them to look right into the lens, and I really like to capture their best and brightest smiles.  The kind that light up the whole face.  I like to leave out noise and logos and often, even, setting, because what I want to remember is the face and the smile.

I don’t think I have more than a dozen photos of my kids crying, and I don’t think many of those were taken on purpose.  I’m not a documentary photographer.  I want to reminisce on good times in the moments with the photo albums.  That doesn’t mean I am whitewashing.  It means I have no need of the memory of sadness or anger or humiliation.  They don’t belong in a photograph album.

I have a few of them sleeping, because that’s the most tender and most vulnerable moment you can capture, and I need to see those baby faces in sleep for ever, but I will not allow others to photograph them sleeping.  A group of tourists tried to do that to my boys on the top of a roofless double decker bus in London, when they’d passed out with jet lag, and I got angry.  You cannot take photographs without permission, and sleeping children (and husbands) can’t give that.

Permission is something that I never leave out of my photographs.  I ask permission to keep the images of sleep, and now, I ask my kids’ permission to post to facebook.

On facebook at the moment, my profile picture is of the Library Lion from the New York Public Library, because I was there and I wanted to show off and I wanted to celebrate being away from my children and I wanted to honour the iconic lion.  Not all honourable motives, but the photo of the lion is flattering, even if it is shot from below.

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One thing you will never see as my profile picture is a picture of my children.  They are not me, and I am not them.  I love them will all of my being, but they do not stand for who I am.  They are their own persons.  And I am mine.  I may often be missing from our family albums, but I don’t leave myself out of my profile.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Self and the Selfie

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“Try and get my dark side, man.” image via @garywhitta

The month of June has been devoted to photography here at 4mothers, and this week, we are turning the camera on ourselves to ask “How has social media affected how we portray ourselves in pictures?”

Do you selfie?  Even Darth Vader’s doing it, with a lightsaber selfie stick, no less.  (That would wreak some serious havoc with the light meter.  Just sayin.’)

Do you substitute selfie, putting up pictures of your kids, your food or your work space instead of a picture of yourself?

Is your profile picture a picture of you or of something that represents you or is it something altogether different?

Are your social media photos heavily edited or brutally honest?

Are you inundated with other people’s social media photographic “perfection” or TMI?

These are some of the questions we will be tackling this week.

In the mean time, have a look at this fascinating history of the female portrait in European art.  Just think, one day, years hence, one of those iterations will be of a woman posing with a selfie moue.

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Guest Post: Kristina Cerise

Husband cookies

 

Husband cookie (noun): small, flat and round baked treat which, for any number of reasons (e.g. unintended merger, over-cooked edges, contact with kitchen floor) has been compromised in a manner that makes it unsuitable for guests and available for consumption by spouse.

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Kristina Cerise is a Seattle writer, editor and mom trying to find meaning in the madness. Her essays have been feature on Brain, Child’s blog, in Working Mother, and most recently in Motherhood May Cause Drowsiness (Second Edition). She blogs about words and what they mean to her on Defining Motherhood.

Juicer

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juicer (n): an intensely delicious kiss on the cheek whereupon the lips of one are pressed firmly into the cheek of another lasting for at minimum 5 glorious Mississippi-seconds.

Variations:
-the kisser’s hand cradles and presses the head of the receiver, creating counter-pressure to intensify the kiss.
-the kisser’s lips attach to the cheek with an open-mouth creating a suction seal, producing a delicious, slurpy sound when pulled away.
-rarely, but much loved by the receiver, the kisser, while lips attached to the cheek, vocalizes Muuuuuu-wah!

Theme Week: The 4mothers1blog Illustrated Dictionary (By Way of Several Books)

I’ve been on a reading adventure of late: books that take as their subject British landscape and its lore and vocabulary, a trail that led to the idea for this week’s posts.

plot-m_1516470fIt all began with The Plot: A Biography of an English Acre by Madeleine Bunting.  The book is an attempt at a biography of the author’s father, a very difficult man, through a biography of The Plot, his sacred acre of land.  A sculptor, devout Catholic, and Arts and Crafts adherent, John Bunting built a chapel by himself and by hand on a remote acre of land in Yorkshire.  He decorated it with religious sculpture and devoted it to fallen soldiers, but he excluded his wife and children from his obsession.  Madeleine Bunting is full of ambivalence as the biographer of this acre of land, and she approaches The Plot sideways to try to fathom what it was that so absorbed her father.  She comes up with so much more rich detail about this acre of land than he would have known, and it feels often as though she may have done so to subvert his own interests.  It was a fascinating read for its tension between biography (by proxy) and local knowledge.  The sheep that graze on the Yorkshire moors, for example, symbols of England’s pastoral identity, are more expensive to keep than the wool they produce.  It’s illegal to burn or bury wool, though, so there’s a massive glut of wool.  The sheep’s grazing is what is necessary to keep the moors looking like moors, though; otherwise, there’d be shrubs and trees instead of heather, and heather attracts tourists, so sheep are actually more valuable in a tourist economy than an agricultural economy.

91nv6gcfWqLIn one of this year’s surprise hits, A Shepherd’s Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape, James Rebanks makes the same observation.  Rebanks, a shepherd in the Lake District, has, of all things, a hugely popular Twitter following (@herdyshepherd1), and on the strength of that success, he wrote this book about his work on the land.  He also remarks on the unprofitable cost of shearing a sheep, and he is eloquent on the value of the enormous work that goes into the care of the herd.  He is wonderfully acerbic about the disconnect between Romantic literary notions of land and landscape and his own experience of it.  As a teen not quite old enough to leave school to work on his family farm, Rebanks recalls chafing under the requirement of school, but deciding to tune in one day when he realizes that a guest speaker at their school assembly had begun to talk about the Lake District, where his family had farmed for generations.  The subtext of her talk is that to want to leave school in order to farm was to be more or less an idiot:

The idea that we, our fathers and mothers, might be proud, hard-working and intelligent people doing something worthwhile, or even admirable, seemed to be beyond her.  …  I listened, getting more and more aggravated, as I realized that curiously she knew, and claimed to love, our land.  But she talked about it, and thought of it, in terms that were completely alien to my family and me.  She loved a “wild” landscape, full of mountains, lakes, leisure and adventure, lightly peopled with folk I had never met.  The Lake District in her monologue was the playground for an itinerant band of climbers, poets, walkers and daydreamers … people whom, unlike our parents, or us, had “really done something.”  …  I realized then, with some shock, that the landscape I loved, we loved, where we had belonged for centuries, the place known as “the Lake District,” had a claim to ownership submitted by other people, based on principles I barely understood.

In large part, his book is a corrective to this teacher’s brand of condescension, and it positively glows with the author’s pride in his work and heritage.  It is uneven–some parts are beautifully crafted, and others needed more polishing–but a very enjoyable read.

91eAbJWoD6LMeadowland: The Private Life of an English Field is a similarly structured book.  Limited, as is Bunting’s book, by a tiny parcel of land, John Lewis-Stempel writes a season-by-season diary of his meadow.  He also takes issue with the Romantic notion of wilderness, but is happy to quote Wordsworth for his epigraph, in which, he says, the poet gets it right:

Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;

Our meddling intellect

Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things

We murder to dissect.

To rationalize the natural world, he says, is pointless, so he offers a detailed and charmingly disjointed journal of his observations of the flora and fauna on Lower Meadow.  One wonderfully self-deprecating observation that he makes is that while the English have a rich and varied lexicon for place names and features of the landscape, their imagination runs dry when it comes to naming the parts of individual farms.  Every farm in England, he says, has a Lower Meadow or a North Field: “hardly ever do they lift themselves above the ultra-prosaic. …  People needed to know field names, which were their places of work.  Children and wives needed to know where to take men their ‘elevenses’ and ‘fourses,’ their cider or tea, their bread and cheese.”

coverAnother surprise hit from the past year is Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk.  The book is a curious mix of a grief memoir, a hawking history and handbook, and a biography of T.H. White, and these disparate themes are expertly woven together by an author who is in total command of her material.  Winner of many prizes, including the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction and the Costa Book Award, H is for Hawk is one of those rare reads that does all of its work well.  When the author is blindsided by a crippling grief for her father, she begins to dream of hawks.  As a child she had been an avid student of falconry, and in the midst of her grief she revives that passion and sets out to acquire and train a goshawk that she names Mabel.  It is an admittedly silly and old-fashioned name that comes from the Latin amabilis, meaning loveable or dear.  In hawking circles, the sweeter the name of the hawk, the more fierce it is likely to become; nominative language here works in opposition to its goal.  The name is not meant to signify.

916sVKaIeaL__SL1500_Names do signify in Robert Macfarlane’s Landmarks, however.  This is also something of a genre-bender.  Part essay and part dictionary, the book is a celebration of land and language.  “This is a book about the power of language,” he writes on page one. “It is a field guide to literature I love, and it is a word hoard of the astonishing lexis for landscape that exists in the comparison of islands, rivers, strands, fells, lochs, cities, towns, corries, hedgerows, fields and edgelands uneasily known as the British Isles.”  A book driven in large part by a desire to defy the inevitable death of language when urbanization makes redundant the rich variety of words for natural things, this book is also a call to get back into the natural world and experience first hand the places and phenomenon now made rare by modern life.  This book does not murder to dissect, but it does attempt to give verbal shape to the beauteous forms of things.  It’s a book to dip in and out of, to use as a resource and as a missal for those devoted to the natural world.

And, finally, Landmarks brought me to Uncommon Ground by Dominick Tyler.  Tyler’s book is also a dictionary of words that describe places, but his is illustrated with breath-takingly beautiful photographs that illustrate the words he defines.

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This is clitter or clatter depending on whether you are in Devon (clitter) or Cornwall (clatter).  It is a word to describe the piles of granite boulders that litter and clutter the hillsides.  I feel so incredibly tender about that perfectly apt word.  How many people actually use it today?  Well, if we don’t use it, at least we make a few more who know what it means and can conjure this image to define it.

It was the tender desire to protect and the contagious zeal to revel in language that gave me the idea for this week’s posts.  In keeping with photography month, we thought we’d take the opportunity to share with you some words and their definitions that are entirely idiosyncratic to our families.  This week you will see illustrated definitions of words unique to us.  Unless, perhaps, they aren’t!  Will you see any words you use?  See any that you will adopt?  Play along this week and share words unique to your families.

We are thrilled to welcome, once again, Kristina Cerise, who’s own mothering dictionary is a delight and an inspiration.  Defining Motherhood is one of those blogs that makes you grateful for this world wide web of goodness.

Guest Post: Jose Carlier on How to Photograph Kids with a Phone Camera

IMG_3199I am so excited to welcome Jose Carlier to the blog today.  Born in Holland and raised in Iran, Jordan, Egypt, France and other assorted locales, Jose is a New York-based photographer whose nomadic sense of adventure is evident in her every frame.  Whether she is shooting fashion for a magazine or environmental portraits of kids, Jose’s pictures are whimsical, bold, and unexpected.  Trained at Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara and published globally, Jose, a mother of two, has most recently focused her lens on kids.  She starts with an unexpected outdoor scene, places high-energy children in it, and captures the can’t miss moments.  Check out her work on her website, Instagram and Facebook.

 

 

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10 tips for shooting portraits with your phone camera

(I use the iPhone 6)

1.  My #1 rule would be to take a step back.  Phone lenses are wide lenses, and they distort the face when you get up too close.  Shoot from further away, and you can always crop your image later during your editing process.

2.  Keep the background simple.  It’s easy to lose your model in a busy background.  If they have light hair and/or clothing, try a darker background so that they will pop out and a lighter background if your subjects are darker.  Also, be careful that you don’t have branches, poles etc. sticking out of your model’s head (when using a busier background).  I love old walls as a background (they have tons of character).  I don’t love graffiti (way too busy unless clothing is styled specifically with the graffiti in mind).

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3.  We have always learnt to keep the sun behind us while shooting so that we don’t get shadows on our models’ faces.  I recommend that, but it’s also very popular at the moment to shoot with the sun behind the model while exposing for the model’s face (press on the face on the phone screen to expose for it prior to shooting).  Experiment with the position of the sun and you can get fun flare effects.

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4.  Shoot from above.  If you are lower than your model’s face you will have a bigger chance of capturing multiple chins ;-)

5.  I find that lots of kids’ eyes are sensitive to sunlight and you will end up with lots of images with 1/2 closed eyes.  If I notice that they are blinking a lot, I will ask them to close their eyes, I will count till 3, and then shoot when they open their eyes at 3.  Prevents discomfort and bad images.

6.  When you are setting up your shot you can touch the screen to set your focus and exposure.  Play around with the exposure.  As you touch different areas of the scene on your screen you will notice the image getting darker or lighter.

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7.  Don’t ZOOM in!  Remember as you zoom in you will lose a lot of photo quality.  It’s better to crop the image later or step in a little closer to your subject.  Don’t get too close or you will get distortion (see tip #1).

8.  I never use flash.  I don’t like the effect you get at all.  The newer phones are incredible, and you can get great results in low light situations.  Try tip #6 to expose for the darker areas.

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9. I was amazed to discover that most of my friends didn’t realize how many editing options we have on our phones.  On my iPhone 6 I can go to edit on a photo and press on the 3rd icon (looks like a clock), ignore the options, and go to the 3 horizontal lines (list icon) and click on that.  It then opens up light, color and b/w options so you can get really specific.  For example getting rid of the dark shadows without changing the rest of the image.  Most photo addicts have other photo editing aps (I love Snapseed) but I use them less and less as each new phone camera gets better quality and editing options.

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10. Filters.  Lots of photographers stay away from filters because they feel it’s a crutch.  I think that if you have a good image to start with, you can improve it with some filters and it’s fun to play around with them.  Actually if you have a bad image you can also use filters to save it :-)  Just don’t go too crazy.  Pick a few favorites and stick with those and create your own style.

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