Memories are funny old things – they stretch and distort over time, some are lost to the mists of the past, others solidified so real they could have happened yesterday, others lost entirely to age and memory loss.
I was talking this Christmas with my husband about our earliest memories and how strange it is to think that our nearly five-year-old daughter will forget most of the things she’s done and lived before now. My husband’s earliest memory is of sitting on his father’s shoulders watching a St Patrick’s Day parade in Canada when he was about two and a half. I can vaguely recall dancing around my old house in a tartan kilt and arran jumper when I was probably about three but my first solid memory is going to visit my newborn baby brother in hospital wearing that same arran jumper (I must have really loved that jumper for it to be in my two earliest memories!) and crossing the road in the snow holding my dad’s hand to get to the hospital. Even now I can see my mother’s pink flowery nightdress and recall how eager I was to see my brother’s little face.
Currently my daughter can remember her Aunty Lorna reading her Mog the Forgetful Cat when she was probably about two and a family holiday to Crackington Haven in Cornwall – indelibly written into her mind as the place where we went for ice cream and the shop had sold out, as well as the last holiday we had a family of three as I was heavily pregnant with my son at the time. She also has almost photographic recall of every ice cream she’s ever eaten and the intricate plot structures of various Disney films!
It is strange to think that some of these memories may fade for her – things that were once so important replaced with other more urgent recollections.
We too will forget some of these details that seem so important at the time. Already it is hazy the exact time she or her brother walked unaided or they got their first tooth. I recall their first proper words - ‘cat’ and ‘bus’ respectively - but can’t bring to mind exactly when they first said ‘mama’ or ‘dada’.
I do know that some of my strongest memories have been solidified for me by the photographs my parents took at the time. I can recall in great detail the shopkeeper game I was playing when a photo was taken of me with a pair of striped knickers on my head (I was – oddly for a four-year-old perhaps – a butcher!), or the dress up game with my cousins where we all dressed up as 80s rock stars or, years later, the day trip walking in the hills of Northumberland the day before my A-levels when my parents thought I needed a break from revision (how long my legs were and how I really loved that tie-dye t-shirt!).
From this photographic record I can piece together my family story and make tangible those half-recalled memories and fleeting glimpses of the past. And interwoven in those memories are the houses we lived in, the decor (my mother’s handcrafted 70s loop rug – I wish she’d kept that as I’d have purloined it by now: a retro style icon!), the childhood friends long since moved on, even the cars we owned (there’s an awesome photo of me washing my dad’s old Rover for pocket money wearing his overalls!). And that’s what I hope my portraits will do for my clients – and my own family. By documenting the everyday, photographs can solidify those memories in the mind so they aren’t forgotten. That gesture they used to make, that expression they used to pull when they were concentrating, that unaffected smile or leap of joy, those tears of frustration. All there. All laid bare. All remembered.
As a family photographer I hope to pass on that gift of memories made real, come to life, to my children when they are older as well as record their lives and our family story for me and my husband.
Memories aren’t made in a photography studio in your Sunday best smiling for the camera, they’re made at home, at play. No fixed grins or awkward poses, just natural, real, raw portraits that are truly you. Whether you take them on a phone or get a professional in for a documentary family photography session, get snapping, get capturing, get preserving!
Rachel Rimell is a family photographer. You can find out more about her work here.