Don't forget the family pet | Healing and celebrating through photography

"Me with our old dog, Baggins."

That's what my friend replied when I asked her what kinds of pictures she wished she had from her childhood.  I asked her that in mid-February.

Fast forward one month and we lost our dear cat Molly who was with us for more than 16 years.

After we broke the news to our girls, we all sat on the couch and looked through an old photo album from when Molly and her brother Desmond were kittens.  It was healing and comforting to see them young and bright.

The album pictures came from an era before cell phone cameras and before I had a digital camera.  Pages and pages of pictures that were shot on FILM and developed at a drug store.  Most of the pictures were of the cats themselves, but the ones I was most drawn to were me and my husband WITH the cats. 

Those pictures brought me back to the moment. 

Like the photos of Molly resting her head against my husband's chin as she laid on his chest.  I saw her do that just the day before she died.

But for all those drug-store snapshots, I came up short when I thought about what photos I have of our girls with the cats.

Because once the girls were here, that's where my photo attention turned.  This past year I've been more intentional about taking pictures of our pets (we now have two young male cats in the mix), BUT I've been moved to shoot them mainly when they're in beautiful light or doing something obnoxious.  Not necessarily when they're snuggling or playing with the rest of the family.

I wish I had more pictures of humans and pets together.

Your take home message:  Photograph the family pet.  WITH your kids.  WITH you. 

If you have a family photo session INCLUDE beloved family pets.  If your photographer won't oblige, find another photographer.

These are photos that matter. 

And in five, ten, twenty years when you have to say good-bye to your treasured friend, you'll be so GRATEFUL you made effort. 

Christine WrightComment
Dear Desmond and Molly | A letter to my cats

Last week we lost our 16-year old cat Molly.  She died during the night in front of our living room fireplace - her favorite spot to rest in recent months.  My husband had been sleeping not too far from her on the couch, when she passed.  He found her when we woke.  We knew her days were numbered.  We had hoped for more time.  We were dumbstruck when we realized.

Molly and her brother Desmond were our first children.  I adopted them as kittens during grad school while living in Oklahoma.  I had wanted a dog.  I had even checked out dogs books from the library. 

Because I was, and still am, all about research.

My then-boyfriend/now-husband convinced me that cats were the way to go. 

As usual, he was right.  Eye roll.

We named them after the characters in the song "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" because The Beatles was one of the few bands we could agree on.  We became "Mommy" and "Daddy" to our cats.  Don't judge.  They were our babies.  Before we had human babies.  You pet people know what I'm talking about, right?  

And if you don't, you're missing out on one of life's extraordinary adventures.

Dear Desmond and Molly,

I remember the day we first met at the Cats Only Clinic.  I fell in love with you instantly, Molly, your ears WAY too big for your tiny head.  Desmond, you did your best song and dance to get our attention.  And I'm GRATEFUL you chose us.

I can't describe the sheer comfort you brought me when I was half-way across the country from my family.  You were my safety net, my soft spot, my living and breathing lovies while I was in a strange land with TORNADOES and BROWN RECLUSE SPIDERS (come to find out we have those in Jersey too),

I called your names each evening before bed and you both came running like puppies and leaped onto the covers.  We slept cuddled together most every night.  Eventually, Molly, you hung out more with Daddy.  And when the girls were born, Desmond, you pledged allegiance to the only other male in the house.  It's OK.  I get it.  He needed you.

I held you both and cried into your fur the day the twin towers fell.  Together we watched endless replays on the screen in disbelief.  It was terrifying being so far away from everyone.  I thank the Universe, I had YOU that day.

Navigating new mom life was OVERWHELMING.  Times when it felt like too much, Daddy reminded me to "take some Molly's belly."  Because burying my face in your belly fur was PURE HEAVEN.  The softest material ever.  Your dad and I brainstormed ways we could market it should we ever find an unlimited supply.

Everyone who visited us regularly was aware of the "Rule of Molly."  Your father instituted this early on.

Molly is not to be moved or caused to move unless it is for the greater good of Molly.

You were much more fickle than your brother in your adult years and for you to sit on our laps was a gift.  Perhaps this was Daddy's excuse to not answer the phone, answer the door, make dinner, tend to a human child, etc.  But since he practically peed his pants on more than once because he didn't want to disturb you, I'm fairly certain the Rule of Molly stemmed from pure adoration.

We instituted the "Rule of Molly as applied to Desmond" when you both became seniors.  It's not that we loved you any less, Desmond.  It was that you was so stinkin' LOVABLE.  Thank you for letting us pick you up, hold you upside down, and squish you any which way.  Thank you for sitting on Daddy's shoulder like a parrot and for not leaving my side for over 12 hours after I had sinus surgery.  Thank you for making biscuits on my belly when I had cramps.

You two gave us so much more than we could ever give you in return.  We were so DAMN LUCKY to have you in our lives and you will be remembered always.


Mommy XO

Christine WrightComment
A family photo session? Who has time for THAT?!

One of THE biggest struggles busy parents have with booking a professional family photo session is that it's a huge TIME SUCK.

Or so they think.

Here's a quick quiz to debunk the myths involving time commitments and preparation for family photography.

Question 1.

A family photo session must happen at

A. a photography studio

B. a pretty park

C. either a or b

D. anywhere you damn well please

The correct answer is choice D. 


Your family is having a pancake breakfast at a favorite diner?  I can make AWESOME pictures of that.  There's a soccer game at 1 PM and then everybody's headed to the park?  I can make AWESOME pictures of that.  You're hanging around the house while the kids do arts and crafts and splash in the rain puddles?  I can make AWESOME pictures of that.

You don't have to MAKE TIME for a documentary photography session.  Because the whole point of documentary photography is to capture your REAL LIFE. 

If you stopped life to load everyone in the car and drive to a park and sit on a blanket together and tickle each other, well, that would be. . .weird.  Unless that's something you do on a regular basis.  In which case, no judgment and I can make AWESOME pictures of that.

 father holding baby wrapped in towel after bath

Question 2.

The best time for your kids to get a haircut before your family photo session is

A. one week prior

B. two weeks prior

C. the morning of

D. whenever you damn well please

The correct answer is D.

Haircuts are a part of life.  Every now and then bad haircuts are a part of life.  No one loves their kid any less when his hair is getting a little shaggy and in need of a trim, or when the barber chops off a bit too much, right? 

You won't love your photos any less if your kid is having a bad hair day.  Because the true personailities of your loved ones are all you will see in your photos.  

 boy shaking head so hair is moving

Question 3.

The best outfit to wear during a documentary family photo session is

A. a white shirt and khaki pants

B. a mixture of textures and colors

C. a graphic T-shirt and jeans

D. whatever you damn well please

The correct answer is D.

Truth time and REALLY hear me on this: 

You feel best when you are the most comfortable and confident.  When you feel your best, you look your best. 

And that shows through in your pictures. 

So wear what you like to wear.  Let your kids wear their favorites, even if it's a red and lime green top with gold leggings and a magenta tutu.  Again, it's the authentic moments and family dynamics that will monopolize your images.  And that's a good thing, my friend.  That's a good thing.

 Two kids in shower wearing bathing suits under an umbrella

Question 4.

The time you should spend cleaning your home for a documentary photo session is

A. six hours

B. 2 hours

C. 30 minutes

D. zilch

The correct answer is D.

We are photographing your NOW.  And if your now mean piles of dirty dishes and enough cat hair to make a set of throw pillows, that's OK. 

I'm not going to document your mess and sell the pictures to a tabloid.  And if it makes you feel better, come look at my messes here.  Honestly, either I compose an image so that clutter is not front in center OR the clutter helps to tell the story.  Either way, you still win.

 boy building tower of magna tiles with toys on the floor

Thanks for taking the quiz!  I hope this opened you up to the possibility of a photo session that doesn't eat into your already too scarce and too precious time. 

I'm calling you out, friend.  "I don't have time for a photo session" is no longer a valid excuse. 

Because when you actually DO have the time, your kids will be grown, and you'll realize that you have little or no visual stories of their childhood.  No tangible memories for you or them.  And THAT would be a damn shame.



There's a story in that clutter: why you can skip cleaning before your in-home photo session

Confession: my house is almost always a mess. 

It's not that I like it that way or that I don't care about it.  It comes down to three simple facts:

1) I want my children to have access to lots of materials with which they can create.

2) I knowingly married someone who does not care for cleaning, picking up, or organizing, nor does it irk him if things around him are in disarray.


 3) There are only so many hours in a day and I chose to spend them doing other things like preparing meals, tending to my children, and making pictures of real life.

Most of the time my house isn't dirty, per se, just cluttered.  There's stuff scattered all about, and, at times when I do pick up, I just feel like a sherpa, schlepping junk from one room to the next.  So, in general, I try to make peace with the clutter.  But trust me: it's an ongoing struggle.

When I started to offer in-home photography, many of my mom friends with similar views on tidying their homes, commented on how this kind of photo session would mean so much preparation.  They, of course, would have to clean their entire home before a photographer was allowed in it.

Here's the thing.  I'm a mom with little kids.  I'm all about letting kids be kids.  I'm learning, sometimes painfully, that picking up each piece of lint from the carpet in between vacuuming like my father taught me isn't necessarily the best use of my time for either me or my family.  So, I would never want to add the additional stress of cleaning a house on top of a fellow parent.  

Therefore, let me dispel this nasty myth that you must have a picture-perfect house in order to have a photography session in your home. 

Hear me, mamas of the world, you do NOT have to clean for an in-home family photo session.

The truth is, most of the time, I'm working really hard to make clean compositions of you and your loved ones as you all go about whatever is that you do.  That's my job.  So, often, if there's clutter that doesn't add anything to the picture I'm trying to make, I find a way to get it out of the frame.

And, sometimes, the story is actually in the clutter.  And that's OK.  No, really.  It is.

I am capturing the essence of your family, where you are right now.  And if where you are right now includes piles of laundry and scattered toys and books, it's all a part of your story.  Don't run from that.  Here are a few stories in my clutter.

Come.  Let me share my messes with you.

Post-holiday mess

Holiday fallout lasted for almost two weeks this year.  My daughter was so into playing with her new treasures that she asked to eat breakfast in the living room most mornings.  Hence, the plate of pancakes amid the toys.


Snack mess. 

She asked me and her dad to open the chip bag about five times and we kept putting her off.  Clearly, she didn't want to wait any longer.  There are tortilla chip crumbs all over the floor by the way.


Backyard mess. 

Buckets, bowls and scoops in the sandbox-turned-mudbox from a big rain.  Personally, I like the pops of color from sand toy clutter.


Baking and general kitchen mess. 

My youngest and I made muffins.  She was proud she filled the muffin pan herself.  She got much of the batter on the floor behind the counter, which is why there is a dirty dish towel on the right.  In the background in front of the sink are several sippy cups waiting to be washed.  My girls still use sippy cups for water at night.  Part of our nightly routine includes my husband or I shouting to each other across the house "Did you make waters yet?"  Often those cups don't make it out of their rooms the next day and then we have a collection of them by the sink at the end of the week. 


After-school mess. 

My oldest gets off the bus, has a snack, and does her homework in the dining room.  This day my youngest was busy creating a card for a relative in the playroom.  Both were trying to finish quickly so they could play with the village of Polly Pockets that lay on the floor between them.  The Pollys live next door and though my neighbor has offered to us permanently, having them on loan for a week every few months is much more exciting.


Fleeting mess. 

OK, so sometimes it becomes more than I can handle.  I work better, think better, and live better when things around me are organized.  So when a space reaches my personal Defcon 1, I'm forced to take action before I get super cranky.  BUT, I know that this time is temporary, and sooner than I wish, my kids will grow up, move out, and the messes won't be a struggle.  So someday, maybe, just maybe, I'll miss all this clutter.  

And if I do, I can always go right back to it with my photos. 

The reality is if I waited until my house was completely organized to make pictures of my memories, I would never get them.   

P.S. If you happen to be a parent of little kids and can miraculously keep a clean and tidy house, don't worry.  I won't judge.  ;)

P.P.S. I'm working on a newsletter project to help free families from fake news pictures. You can sign up here.

Christine WrightComment
A surrogacy birth | Chester, PA Birth Photography

"I'm not telling you it's going to be easy.  I'm telling you it's going to be worth it."  -Art Williams

I will never know the the details of their journey.  I will never understand truly the physical and emotional roller coasters of the intended parents, the birth mother, and their families.  I can only imagine the months and years of waiting and wishing and waiting some more.  But what I can do - what I did do - was witness and document the hours and moments it all became worth it. 

This birth mama was the epitome of centered.  Totally in her zone, she labored calm and peaceful.  I actually thought we'd be going through the night and into the next day, because clearly things were moving slowly if a laboring mama is that zen.  Of course, I was dead wrong.  This mama called for a nurse and it turned out she had dilated to eight centimeters.  Unmedicated at eight centimeters and only a few grunts?!  I was in awe.  By the time the doctor came into the room, the baby was ready to make his entrance.  Pushing lasted only a few minutes and he was here.  

And, oh my, do you want to see what all-consuming joy looks like?  Then scroll down, my friend.  The moment these parents saw the face of their son for the first time on their gestational surrogacy journey is a powerful one.  Some day I hope they will show their son these pictures, and he will know without a doubt the raw love that surrounded him when he entered the world.

My sincerest gratitude to these families for granting me the privilege of making pictures of this extradorinary time.

Christine WrightComment
At home with mom and the birds | South Jersey documentary family photographer

When Ashley first contacted me, I was doing cartwheels over the words she had written: "I love your work. Your story, when I looked it over, it was like a life I didn't live, but belonged to me. I get it."  She was referring to one of my first blog posts about photographing my own children, which you can check out here

Yes!  She sees the importance and value of documentary photography for her family.  She knows that the photos I make of her and her children will capture this season of their lives.  She'll be able to put memories on her walls, memories of her youngest nursing or smiling proudly as he pulls her hair.  She'll have memories of her older son dozing on the couch; he'd had a fever on and off during the days prior to our session and we didn't want to wake him.  Maybe she'll look at these photos years from now and remember the exact feeling of holding her two sons in her arms or the scent of their soft hair.  She'll be able to hear the laughter and giigles as the kids observed the family chickens running around the backyard.  Yes, she gets it.  

(And can I add that I was totally stoked to photograph chickens?!  This was my first time having them in a shoot and they were hilarious.)  In summary, one gorgeous mama, two cheek-squeezing adorable boys, and a bunch of silly chickens made for one fun and touching in-home session.

Christine WrightComment