Picture a family portrait and the image that likely comes to mind is a large photograph hanging over the fireplace of a family posing for the camera, usually in matching outfits.
Today, family portraiture is closer to high art, with candid moments a key part of photo shoots, resulting in interesting photography arrangements that get displayed in a home in artful ways. Looking at photography being done locally, family portraits show a range of emotions and looks. There will always be posed or semi-posed photos of families together, but more common are candid “slice of life” moments: a little boy enjoying an ice cream cone, a mother teaching her daughter to play piano, as seen from the back or with just their hands and the piano showing, two brothers engrossed in a card game, or a young girl with a dreamy gaze.
In using photography as art for the home, the first step before a single image is shot is to understand a home’s décor, colors and style (traditional versus contemporary or minimalist), so that family photos not only capture the spirit of a family but can be incorporated into a plan for wall installations that will fit the interior design.
Several local photographers use special software after a photo shoot in which they can project different images, in a variety of sizes and groupings, onto photos of the clients’ walls so they can see what the portraits will look like, streamlining the photo selection process. “It quickly becomes easy to see and really fine-tune how you want them to look together in different areas of the home,” says photographer Laurie J. Wright of Westport.
In her portraits, Wright aims to show family members’ connection to each other with “interrelated hands, heads tilted toward each other, legs entwined and bodies in harmony.” She takes photos of the moments that matter to create a living record of a family’s evolution over the years. “I ask clients what the most important things they want out of their photo session are,” she says. “Most know they need to do it because kids are young, and as they get older it tends to be the school portraits in September that prompts family portraiture for the holidays.”
Laura St. John, a Milford-based photographer, explains that capturing a moment in time is one of the most powerful and beautiful ways to hold onto memories. “Turning photography into art we can hang on our walls is a time capsule into our past that we can look back on forever,” she says. “There are so many ways to incorporate photos into our home’s interior design. I especially love the idea of candid moments as art.”
She continues, “The unexpected capture always makes the best art. A cool print matted and framed is a great conversation piece as well and can quickly engage guests to relate on a deeper level when witnessing your family’s life events through photography.”
Ben Larrabee of Ben Larrabee Photography in Darien likes to be authentic in his photography, capturing what he calls “moments of grace.” Having practiced the art of meditation for decades before becoming a photographer, he brings that background with him and seeks to reflect what he sees in someone, photographing their spirit and energy as well as the love between people in a family.
“The thought process is to go without expectation about what should happen — be in a place where I am watching what’s going on with a family, looking at relationships,” Larrabee says, explaining he wants to get out of the way so family members can be themselves.
Wilton-based photographer Ema Whittaker adopts a photojournalistic style of photography when taking pictures of families. “I like to capture authentic moments as they happen and avoid obviously staged photographs,” she says. “I love photography as an art form. Framing and mounting really does enhance photographs.” Recently, Whittaker has been printing on metallic sheets that appear to float on the wall. Held by brackets, they bring a modern flavor to any home. “Capturing moments that mean something, then creating a piece of art and hanging it on the wall in your home really is the best way to celebrate life and love,” she says.
Among modern ways to display family photos are groupings, sans mat or in a floating frame for a sleeker, contemporary feel, or in a small grouping of oversized engineer photos (large black-and-white prints originally used in the engineering and architectural trade). Black-and-white photography has a timeless look, making it well-suited to any style interior. A family might create an installation of playful images going up a stairwell but reserve the space at the top for a small grouping of close-up photos. Large walls often are filled with linear groupings of same-sized portraits in an equal number of rows and columns.
“We like to show images big so they have presence on the wall and show the spirit,” Larrabee concludes. “What’s nice about putting together a grouping of six, eight, 10 images is that they can tell a story about the day or about the family and their connections.”