Family – whether you love it, hate it or something in between there’s no getting away from it. Even those lost poor souls wandering the earth came from someone and hold in their veins the story of their predecessors. For many others of us, our families – however we choose to define them – are the people nearest to us with whom we share our DNA (usually) but more importantly, our love (as well as most other emotions at one time or another). Covering a family get together as a photographer is challenging if you’re an outsider, but even more challenging if you are a part of the story but want to capture it as if you were an outsider.
I am just back from an annual celebration of family that took place in between broad corn fields and green fields sown with soy bean. “This is cash crop country,” one of my cousins said as we drove down the road in his jeep to pick up glacial quantities of ice for the coming weekend drinking session.
Over a hundred showed up, nearly all of whom I am related to in some fashion. All came with their trailers, tents, husbands, wives, children, dogs and a wide array of bbqs and every kind of portable folding chair ever produced.
It was my first time in attendance, having missed several previous years for what I thought were good reasons (but now realized weren’t). After just two brief, sun filled days and fire lit evenings, I reconnected with many of cousins, aunts and uncles whom I hadn’t seen in many years. We were all older, most of us larger around the waist, but otherwise still the same. It feels good to be with your people whoever they are, and I felt at home, sitting on any available chair eating whatever food was offered to me, taking it all in.
The days were filled with wandering from one trailer to another, having a drink here, a bite to eat there, while the children slid down the makeshift slip n’ slide, and played a series of games all involving chasing each other around (“Manhunt”), throwing water bombs and shooting each other with water pistols.
There was a fully equipped karaoke station, and of course, a huge bonfire at night, singing, laughing, and a little bit of falling down.
Yup, that’s an actual camera
While everyone has phones and takes photos and videos constantly, I was only one of two people that I noticed using an actual camera (my trusty Fuji X100T). I always keep it around my neck so that people stop noticing it after a while, and with its silent action, and small format, it is easy to blend in and get shots without anyone really paying any attention at all. These are my favourite kinds of photos – the ones that plant you right in the middle of the action without anyone posing for a photo.
On the second night we lit lanterns for two fathers, our Uncle Johnny and my father, Rick, both of whom passed away this year. It was a tragicomic success, with the fiery lanterns nearly crashing into one of my cousins, then almost burning down a tent before finally getting lift off out over the neighbour’s corn field, their passage marked by the sounds of people shouting “Lookout!” while others harmonized “Amazing Grace”
We cried, we laughed, we drank, we fell down, we stood up, slept badly if at all, or passed out cold and slept the sleep of the dead, with everyone looking forward to their own bed’s and next year’s gathering.