I appreciate photography as an art form and means of storytelling. In college, I discovered Ansel Adams’ haunting black and whites and have been drawn to photography ever since. I most enjoy amateur attempts at capturing our children in my camera as a way of slowing down time, as a means of documenting and remembering life. Last year I took a fantastic online photo course from Ashley Ann that teaches how to tell stories through the lens of a camera.
There is power to communicate The Story in a simple photograph. The art of photography captures moments in time within a greater story. It can deliver tone and emotion, truth and beauty. But in our visually gorged digital culture, we need to constantly remind ourselves that a photograph represents only a fraction of time, not the whole story. There can quite possibly be nothing true at all about a particular image, photoshopping, staging, and posing chasing all reality away.
The one picture I struggle with most, though, is the dreaded “Christmas card picture”. It’s the challenge of capturing best smiles and hair and outfits and creative effort in a carefully composed fraction of a second as a way of telling your friends and family that this represents your story for that year. It’s impossible and it wears me out. Plus, for all practical purposes it is usually a lie.
This image of our three children was taken a few weeks ago when our oldest was home on fall break. If this ends up in our Christmas card, I’m seriously considering attaching a disclaimer: WARNING: All images contained within are not necessarily what they appear. I don’t want a lie instead of the truth to be told when I share this photograph. This is but a 1/1,000 of a second that in no way represents all the time in 2012 spent in struggle and conflict, building up and tearing down.
I know the real story of that particular day. I was there 30 minutes prior when “one who shall not be named” gave in to a royally sour mood, turning the other siblings into critical button pushers. The memory card on my camera was almost full by the time this particular shot was taken. Glimpses of jaws set, arms crossed, eyes cutting sideways, stances a little too far away deleted away with a click.
Even though this picture feels a bit fraudulent, I love it because I know the real back story, all 19 years of it. The real story this image tells forces a fall down on my face humility to wash over me. I look at this one slice of time and all the stories leading up to it rush through my mind. The good and then simultaneously very ugliest of mothering moments. The prayer circles answered, but also the butter on the ceiling moments of flat-out failure. I may share the butter story someday but for now I’ll just say it was not my finest moment.
The story I want to share with this picture is not one of 3 good kids with 2 good parents, but one that keeps screams to be told called Grace. The story of this particular image is nothing short of a miracle. That these three children are smiling and halfway normal in spite of their mother, is one I am most grateful for and least deserving. My favorite definition of Grace as it relates to the story contained here is this : the love and mercy given to us by God because God wants us to have it, not because of anything we have done to earn it.
The story represented here in no way guarantees smiles in the future. In fact, I know there will be tears from each one of these happy faces in the seasons ahead. But I refuse to let it rob joy today. The gift of mothering these children is one of my most favorite stories.
THAT is what I want to share in the Christmas card.
I think the reason people send photos to one another at Christmas is that need within us to share our stories. Or the dream of what we hope our story to be. May we view them all in light of the story of Grace, realizing there is always so much more to the story than a 1/1,000 moment in time!