On Family and Photography: A Personal Tale on Film

All images and text by James Moreton. Preface by Chris Gampat.

When I approach our contributors about stories, I tend to cater to their specialties and get them to be more expressive about what they do. In case of contributor James Moreton, we got very personal. You see, I can relate with him on so many different levels. For a really long time my father wasn’t around to help raise me but for much different reasons than James went through. Now that James is a father, he found a way to combine it with his photography. James is an analog film shooter: and a fantastic one at that.

And this story gets very personal. I encourage you to read this one very slowly.

Caveat – this is not meant to be a cry for sympathy, purely a reflection on what drives a photographer to look at a certain subject matter – in this case that subject matter is family…

“…it is no mystery that we can only photograph effectively what we are truly interested in or—maybe more importantly—are grappling with.” Todd Hido

I have been married for five years and have two kids; a two-year-old and a three-month-old. Not out of the ordinary, I hear you say, but slightly less ordinarily (and deeply inspired by the likes of Darcy Padilla, Alan Laboile and Trent Parke), I have captured major ups, downs and everyday life on film from a documentary photography prerogative. So far I have made two chapters of a very personal project – my family album. The first chapter covered my wife’s first pregnancy, all nine months of it. The second chapter looked at the two years after my son was born, including my wife’s second pregnancy. These are very personal pictures that mean a lot to me. So why do I need to make them?

I have been interested in the concepts of family and fatherhood long before I became infatuated with photography. I suffered a strange and turbulent childhood – my father was disinterested in me from the beginning and I haven’t seen or heard from him in twenty-five years. Both my parents were in the British Armed Forces which meant we moved around every couple of years. I was born in Germany but moved to England to a military base soon after.

My father was constantly away working. He eventually left for good before my third birthday and I have no memories of living with him at all. Since I was three I have seen him less than a handful of times and haven’t heard from him at all since I was ten years old. He decided it was easier to go off and do his own thing and put his children out of mind. Completely. No birthday cards. No Christmas presents. No girlfriend advice. No bollockings. No life guidance. Nothing.

My Mum did her best to be both parents, but having had a couple of years’ experience with young kids myself I can only imagine how hard that would have been (even with two of us running around, both my wife and I are exhausted by the end of the working day – and we are a long way from raising teenagers). However, as many of you will appreciate most young men need some sort of father figure to show them the way or provide advice, in certain situations. All through my teenage years I constantly thought how can a father forget their kids and ignore their conscience, or maybe not even have a conscience at all? Today, as a father myself, I look at my kids and know deep down that no matter what happens I will be there for them. The feelings they instill in me confuse me even further as to how a man can turn his back on his family. My conscience would not let me behave in that way.

Now moving around constantly has positives and negatives. I have been independent from a very young age. I have held my own council on all matters and can think deeply and analyse situations when I need to (I have learnt the hard way). I am also good at travelling and moving house – it doesn’t faze me (by the time I was 21 I had lived in 21 different houses; mainly from continuing to live in a military environment, before settling in my ancestral Northern Ireland). But moving around constantly meant I never felt like I was from anywhere, it played havoc with a burgeoning identity and this has driven a strong need to find a home and a sense of belonging, or a sense of place as an adult. I feel this is one main reason for the desire to make work about my family and home environment.

Going back to the Todd Hido quote that I have used to start this article – photographing what I am grappling with – hopefully you can understand that family, fatherhood and home are all concepts that I have thought about deeply and possibly affect me more than someone who has had a simple upbringing with two parents in one house? I showed these pictures to someone recently and they said they were some of the saddest family pictures they have seen; I feel there is some sadness in there, some longing and confusion maybe, but also there is plenty of joy, fun and humour. If I disregard my early past and concentrate on the future; having kids, a wife and a family life has filled me with so much happiness, joy and love… And I hope my long running picture series will reflect that in the coming chapters.

So why make these pictures? Photography is personally how I translate and digest experiences… how I make sense of life. Trent Parke says that for him photography is striving “to find the answers to life” and that is how I see it also. Photographing my family is how I have come to terms with a strong set of emotions and make sense of where I am and how far I have come – it is my process for grappling…

To see the full series please see James’ website and find him on Instagram.