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
Cape May with the family | South Jersey storytelling photographer

Last year I was scheduled to photograph this extended family during their annual vacation in Cape May, NJ.  We had plans to shoot out on the beach with sand, surf, and sun.  Mother Nature was not on our side that day and the weather was all gloom and doom, so the session was cancelled.  And it turned out to be the best thing ever, because, since then, I have taken the plunge into storytelling photography, as opposed to more traditional posed and semi-posed sessions.  Don't get me wrong.  I love a good posed portrait.  My heart just doesn't sing when I shoot that genre.  I gravitate toward the unscripted and the unexpected.  So, this year, when asked again to photograph this incredibly fun family, I was elated to offer them a storytelling session at their vacation home to capture authentic moments of their time together.  

(Turns out the adults rarely hang out on the front porch and were "acting natural."  Ha!  But I get it.  Having a photographer present in any situation can be unnerving.  And so maybe they don't frequent that awesome porch.  These connections are the real deal.  That's what it's all about.)

Christine WrightComment
A Day at the Discovery Museum | NJ storytelling photographer

“Play is the highest form of research.” – Albert Einstein

I'm a huge of believer in the importance of play in the development of a child.  I had grandiose plans of spending most of summer vacation taking my girls on fabulous outdoor adventures, letting them play till they dropped, and, of course, photographing it all in amazing sunlight.  Well, then life got in a way with its obligations, as it often does.  And then. . .my oldest broke her foot when she tripped and fell.  She tripped and fell not during a fabulous outdoor adventure, but while walking in our house.  Luckily, she was put in a walking boot rather than a cast, but she hasn't really wanted to leave the house much.

The other week we needed a change of pace, so we drove down to the Garden State Discovery Museum, which we had been to a few times before.  I thought we'd stay a couple of hours and then the girls would be ready to head home.  We were at the museum for over six hours.  Six hours of pure imaginative play.  And bonus: I discovered some really cool artificial light there.  So I took out my camera because it's usually with me and that's what I do.  Here are some highlights.

We checked out the science room and the glow-in-the-dark cave.

There was a lot of taking orders, cooking and serving at the Silver Dollar Diner.

Much time was spent in the ambulance and veterinarian's office.

girl with stuffed dog playing veterinarian

Broken-foot kid even climbed through the indoor treehouse and built a plumbing system.

They loved the bubble station, especially being inside a giant bubble, beacuse, who wouldn't?

But the place we spent the most time, the place my girls felt right at home, was, of course, the stage.  Drama queens for life.

little girl on play stage
Christine Wright
A community united | Bordentown, NJ, documentary photographer

I document families: birth, babies, children, parents, but, most importantly, the connections between them.  Last night members of my town gathered peacefully in response to recent events in Charlottesville.  The connection I felt among our one community was no less than that of family, and so it deserves to be documented.

Christine Wright
Sunday afternoon shenanigans | Havertown, PA family photographer

To have another photographer ask me to document her family is one of the greatest compliments I can get.  It also makes me a wee bit nervous.  OK, way nervous.  But once I started shooting these two loving and energetic boys, I was having so much fun, I forgot about the butterflies in my belly.  Window art, blocks, bed jumping, a walk to the park. . .we all had a blast.

Christine Wright
A most powerful birth | NJ birth photographer

Growing up I don't remember people talking much about birth, except that it was exceptionally painful.  My mother told me that it was indeed painful, but that once you hold your baby you forget the pain.  (I'm not sure I agree with her on that last one.  I'm pretty certain that I'll remember the sensations of labor and delivery always.)  But when we are so focused on the pain and the fear of that pain, we miss out on conversations about the incredible power of birth.  Let's make the power and joys of birth our new normal.  Our bodies know what to do and even as a laboring mother cries out "I can't do this," she IS doing it.  She is bringing her baby into this world, and it is extraordinary.

This mama was extraordinary.

Christine Wright
An evening with Addy - NJ family documentary photographer

"There are places in the heart you don't even know exist until you love a child." -Anne Lamott

This session reminded me so much of my own life when my first child was a year old.  There were the necessary paraphernalia strewn about the town house: high chair, baby gate, toys, and books.  There were the evening routines: dinner, play, evening walk, bath, and nighttime nursing session.  Mostly, I remembered the intense wonder, pride, and love that were evident in the beaming eyes of these parents as they witnessed each move and giggle of their one-year old daughter. 

Christine Wright
Your home, your story - NJ family documentary photographer

"Good moms have sticky floors, dirty ovens and happy kids."  A very dear friend gave me a magnet with this quote.  It's on my refrigerator as a reminder that right now is a fleeting season of life. 

The fingerprints on the walls are there because of the face paint and art supplies that are used every day.  Those unmade beds?  They're for cuddling and chatting on Saturday mornings.  The dust on the floor lights up like fairy sparkles during the dance parties.  The LEGOS and blocks strewn across the living room are evidence of their creations and engineering feats.  The dress-up clothes piled high in baskets are taking a breather after the afternoon's imaginary adventures.  There are stacks of books in every room because she just started reading and can't get enough of it.  It's OK that there are pancake crumbs and drips of syrup on the floor because they made breakfast with a buddy today.  The chalk footprints in the laundry room leave a trail to the love they drew outside.  Pieces of that board game are left out because we were all laughing too much to clean it up last night.  Little ponies and tiny people wait patiently in the bathtub for their next adventure.  I know that those socks had to come off before she showed us her jumping skills.  And those window smudges show where they stare into the backyard, deep in thought, navigating the world around them.

Am I making excuses as to why my house isn't clean and tidy at all times?  Well, maybe.  But the thing is that I know this isn't forever.  I know one day I won't be tripping over toys or have to wipe fingerprints.  I know the laundry won't be piled a mile high and that the books will be arranged neatly on the shelves.  And when that time comes, I want to remember every detail of how it is now.  So I film it all, in my home, no matter how sticky the floor or dirty the oven.

Your home is where your story is made.  Capture it there.

Christine Wright
Defining moments | NJ birth photographer

Last June something unexpected and a bit life-changing came my way.  An incredible woman invited me into her sacred space for the labor and delivery of her third child, in order to document the event through my pictures.  Never in a million years did I think I would jump at the chance to photograph a birth.  But there I was, awe-struck, humbled, and petrified that I would pass out at some point (I didn't.). 

In retrospect, I suppose birth photography was a natural progression for me.  My obsession for taking pictures took off when my first child was born.  When I later considered photography as my own career and art, I was driven by images of childhood, parenthood and motherhood.  I photographed first children, then families, then newborns, then nursing mothers.  I gravitated toward unscripted, documentary-style photos showcasing emotional connection.  What is the epitome of a raw, emotive event in parenthood?  Birth. 

Needless to say,  I was pretty pumped waiting for the call to drive to this birthing center.  A lot of photographers choose not to shoot births because of the on-call nature of the job.  But the anticipation of dropping everything at a moment's notice to witness a new life enter this world is partly why I'm drawn to birth photography.

Many people (my husband included) think birth photography is all about the moment the baby arrives straight out of the birth canal.  Let me tell you: it is so much more.  I photographed this mama riding the ups and downs of labor, encircled by her husband, sisters and mother.  There was waiting and wondering and pain and soothing of pain.  There were compassionate nurses and a rock star midwife and many cups of coffee.  There was calming music and crushing hand squeezes.

And then there was a tiny human being taking his first breath.  A defining moment.

Instantly, the room was flooded with joy, and out of no where tears streamed down my cheeks.  More magic followed with skin-to-skin embraces and baby's first latch.  Eventually, there was the housekeeping to tend to: cutting the cord, taking measurements, cleaning up.  And this little man even had his first face time session. 

When I left the birthing center in the darkness of early morning, I was high on the power and beauty of this event that we so often take for granted.  I knew then that I wanted to capture the artistry of birth for more families, to preserve the memories of life's truly miraculous defining moment. 

Christine Wright
Community vigil | Bordentown, NJ

Earlier this week my town held a candlelight vigil in remembrance of the immigrants who built our nation and to acknowledge concern for those who still seek refuge.  There were a few speakers, a few songs, and a peaceful walk through the downtown streets.  I was in awe of the joy, hope, and strong sense of community felt in our little corner of the world that night.  Thank you, Bordentown.

Christine Wright