Weekly Photo Challenge: fleeting. Family photos in context

Fleeting moment: my great grandfather, Alexander Cruden captured by an unknown photographer.

A fleeting moment: my great grandfather, Alexander Cruden captured by an unknown photographer.

“Fleeting” seems an entirely appropriate term for the photo above. I believe that it was taken on Kirkcaldy High Street – although I don’t know when. It was probably taken by a professional street photographer as the original has a number on the back, but there is no studio name or other identifying mark.

I have three such photos; this one, another of my paternal grandmother and the third of my 2 x great grandmother (Alexander Cruden’s mother) with her younger son Stewart. I think I’ve also seen one of my mother as a young teenager, but I’m not totally sure about this.

Strolling ... Stewart Cruden and his mother with an unknown (to me) couple

Strolling … Stewart Cruden and his mother with an unknown (to me) couple

Susan Forbes Nicholson Elder. Kirkcaldy High Street. circa 1940s.

Susan Forbes Nicholson Elder. Kirkcaldy High Street. circa 1940s.

By its nature, all photography is fleeting; capturing only a fraction of a second out of a whole lifetime. But while an image is fleeting, its context may not be. The relationship between photographer and subject can be transitory – or incredibly complex. At one end of the continuum is street photography – where the subject is unknown to the photographer and the relationship between them lasts the duration of the shot, plus the time it takes to effect any transaction that might take place if those shots are printed “on spec” in the hope that subjects will buy the print (a phenomenon these days confined to tourist attractions, graduation ceremonies and school balls).

My mother and her siblings. L-R: Margaret, Elizabeth (mum), May, Sandra, David, Catherine.

My mother and her siblings. L-R: Margaret, Elizabeth (mum), May, Sandra, David, Catherine.

But as private camera ownership has grown – to the extent that millions of us have mobile phones with built-in cameras that allow us to capture images of those around us at any time – the relationship between photographer and subject becomes more complex.

As children, my parents only had pictures taken if the family went to a professional photographic studio, happened to be captured by a street photographer, or if an older sibling or cousin saved up for a Box Brownie.

My father was a keen photographer in his youth. This is one of many portraits he took of my mother.

One of many portraits my father took of my mother.

In his youth my father was an enthusiastic photographer. This meant that when he first became a father – to me – he took lots of pictures, and my babyhood is recorded in large numbers of prints and 35mm slides. By the time my youngest brother came along, although photography had become cheaper, my father had lost his enthusiasm, and subsequently there are fewer photos of Derek as a child.

My own son has been photographed thousands of times by doting parents and grandparents. The earliest images are of a tiny wrinkled bundle barely an hour old. Pictures of his first days, weeks and months of life fill several albums and boxes. These days, I snap him in airport lounges and cafes – pretty much the only times we’re together with nothing better to do than play with our phones.

Whatever the setting or timing of the photos I take of my child, they are always informed by the incredibly powerful, complex relationship I have with him. I want to capture him in ways he’ll be happy to see – especially as so many photos end up on my blogs or other social media and I’m not the kind of parent who’s saving embarrassing shots for his 21st birthday or to show girlfriends. I guess often I also want to create and share images that I think are beautiful and that do justice to how amazingly gorgeous I believe him to be.

What that means of course, is that there is a form of censorship at work when I photograph my child. It springs from a mother’s love and dictates that even the most candid, apparently fleeting image carries with it a story that is enduring; a story of love and belonging and connection.

This week the Daily Post‘s Weekly Photo Challenge theme is “Fleeting.” Drop on by to find out more.

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19 thoughts on “Weekly Photo Challenge: fleeting. Family photos in context

  1. Family photos are the best. As a mother of four, I can certainly understand how your brother was shortchanged in the photo department. I wouldn’t say I lost interest as much as I didn’t have as much time. Of course, now that there’s just the cat around, I’m able to take loads of “family” photos. Lovely post.

    • Thank you. I think you’re right; my dad probably had a lot less time with three kids. I think there is also an element of novelty. We have squill ions of photos from our son’s early years (even before digital), yet I struggle to find any from this year to send my mum who keeps asking for pics of her Kiwi grandson. Thanks for visiting my blog.

  2. Pingback: Weekly Photo Challenge / B4 Retouch: Fleeting / Dead Tree | What's (in) the picture?

  3. I love this post and the way you’ve taken us through the generations to your own stunningly gorgeous son 🙂 …
    The car, in the first photo with your Great Grandfather, looks very much like my first car.. a 1947 “Flying Standard”… ha ha ha… I was 16 years old.

  4. Pingback: Weekly Photo Challenge / B4 Retouch: Fleeting / Dead Tree 2 | What's (in) the picture?

  5. Pingback: Weekly Photo Challenge / B4 Retouch: Fleeting / Mont Beuvray View 2 | What's (in) the picture?

  6. What a perfect blog to go with the subject matter! Your great-grandfather sure looks as if he’s the boss! And I love that photo of your son behind a 35mm SLR! Runs in the family?!

    • Thank you so much. Not sure my great grandmother would agree with you about who was boss. Great Grandad had a prosthetic leg and she used to hide it when she was grumpy with him. But perhaps it was because he used to turn his hearing aids off when he was fed up with her. They were married for 62 years, so I guess they were both pretty tolerant.
      Thanks for the photo compliment; the boy-child is a waaaay better snapper than me. 🙂

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