Family photography as an art form
+ By Desiree Smith-Daughety + Photos by Jamie Horton
Her photos capture the ethereal childhood moments that pass far too quickly, leaving families with the two-dimensional equivalent of capturing lightning in a bottle when it comes to children, notorious for mercurial emoting and shark-frenzied movement.
From documentary photographer on the world stage to documentary family photographer in nurseries or outdoors with anxious parents trying to corral rambunctious kids, Jamie Horton has given the concept of reinvention a spin on its axis. She started in journalism and felt she was creating memorable work. Documenting life and capturing moments felt important for her and, she hoped, for the world. “My interests changed as my life changed. I became interested in family photography; meaningful work again, but not to the same people. What I’m trying to do is create memorable, beautiful pieces of art.”
Jamie’s goal for each shoot is to create an image with an artistic edge that can be appreciated by a wider audience—someone other than the subject’s mother. She is inspired by Sally Mann, a renowned photographer she feels “captures that in a unique way.”
Her reinvention was launched following the birth of her first child. New parents know well that these rapturous days are fleeting. Jamie grabbed for her camera that first week, wanting to collect the moments before they were irretrievable. Her professional roots led her to at first just document “nothing artistic.” But she soon desired to move beyond snapshots—the kind with which all proud parents adorn their Facebook walls, filling friends’ and families’ feeds with that same desire to slow time. Cutting her artistic teeth at home, she received positive feedback, and voilà—a redirection was born.
“It’s a big responsibility, capturing another family’s precious moments—creating photographs that are meant to be loved for a lifetime. I feel like it’s a real important trust they place in me.”
Jamie doesn’t have a studio; she shoots on location. Because she can’t control all the location’s aspects, it awards some element of surprise, spurring her to think on her feet. This is what keeps her excited.
As do the kids. Not only do they surprise, but Jamie soon realized they are the boss. She likes to do posed shots early on and then let them run wild. Though she is trying to shoot a moving target, they’re having fun, less inhibited by the camera. “They’re darting all over the place, and I’m trying to capture their faces.” Although parents may be cringing in the background, fearful that the shoot will be a bomb, Jamie handles it with perfect aplomb. “It’s easier when it’s not your own kids. I find it cute and funny; it makes me laugh.” It’s actually that wild natural essence that she works to capture—what makes kids kids.
When capturing families, Jamie strives not only for the quintessential “perfect family” photo, but also candid, natural shots, avoiding traditional forced smiles and frozen poses. She may start with a pose or tell them to come together naturally. “I like to blend their natural emotion and want to see their connection; I don’t want them to be too stiff.”
And how about temper tantrums? Jamie loves the ethereal shots, but doesn’t want to capture only the perfect moments. She has been known to include a tantrum shot in a gallery because it will make everyone laugh someday. Her own kids aren’t immune; she likes to show her kids how they looked because they didn’t get a lollipop. Jamie also didn’t shy away from documenting a birthday party she threw for her son that she characterizes as a complete disaster. “Everyone was just crazy! One kid was ripping all the presents, another crying in the corner, another shoving cake. I took pictures to capture the insanity of it.”
Jaime’s journalism training has served her well; she learned to anticipate a perfect moment. You have to be fast; it can’t be recreated. This translates well to children. For her, it is gratifying when—in the midst of an image—she can feel everything coming together, a momentary grasp on elusive time to make something her clients will love as much as she does.
Jamie has an intuitive understanding of art: it is life, in all its messy yet sublime glory.