On a recent afternoon, while sitting in my friend Erik’s living room sipping an adult beverage, I was flooded with a profound feeling of connection.
Erik’s five-year-old son was playing with my four-month-old daughter. Perhaps I’m a bit sentimental, the combination of a lack of sleep and being a new dad, or maybe it was just the effects of the cocktail, but I couldn’t help feeling a deep sense of life’s connective tissue and the passage of time.
You see, I remember meeting Erik like it was yesterday. We were just five years old in Mrs. Brown’s kindergarten class. Erik was playing with building blocks, no doubt using Pythagorean’s Theorem and complex geometry to build an architectural masterpiece. I introduced myself as much as a five-year-old can, and in an instant a forty-year connection was born. Now, all these years later, we sat together on a warm afternoon and watched his son Helix meet my daughter Elsa for the first time. Helix is exactly the age that Erik and I were when we first met. There on the floor, Elsa coos and grabs hold of Helix’s finger gripping it tightly. He giggles, amazed at this little human being. He leans close and tells her that he loves her.
Erik and I never really decided to be friends—we just are. Always have been, always will be. As I watch our children begin the connection anew, it isn’t so much friendship that comes to mind—it’s family.
In this spirit, we’re calling this new assignment “Finding Family.” What is family for you? Is it your brothers and sisters in arms, with bonds formed during a tour of duty in a distant land? Is it your foster brothers and sisters? Maybe family for you requires shared blood or a marriage certificate. Maybe family is more complicated for you—darker, more painful. Or do members of your family even have to be human?
As you begin photographing, we have a couple of suggestions. Feel free to take portraits, but don’t just show us who your family is—try to capture the special element that shows why they are family. You can also photograph your family in action, documenting the traditions and rituals that make your family special.
Good luck, and good shooting!
Thank you for your contributions!
Editor's Update #2
We have looked through two more batches of photographs. The last batch consisted of more than 1800 images so it is great to see a substantial increase in submissions!
Let us describe our editing process and perhaps provide some insight as to why we select certain images as our favorites. First a definition, “Editing” means the selection of images. This differs from “Processing” which means the adjustment of color, tone, contrast, exposure, etc. done in a software program like Photoshop.
When we sit down to select our favorites we are looking for images that have that extra something special. Keep in mind we are looking at thousands and thousands of photographs so we end up seeing many similar images and themes. Some examples of things we have seen a lot of; people holding hands, portraits of families, and people hugging. These are all fine to submit, but the images that we select will have to stand out from the rest. When we see them they jump right out at us with an energy that the others just don’t have. It may be outstanding light or it may be a creative composition. It may be a humorous way to show family or it may be a genuine emotion that shines through. A standard portrait of a family standing in front of a wall will not cut it. Of course, a portrait of your family will have special meaning to you but since viewers like us don’t know your family it won’t have any special meaning to the viewer. It is your job to capture that special feeling in a meaningful and creative way. You have to be thinking of how your feelings about your family are illustrated, even infused, within your photograph. Check out our likes to see the images that are jumping out at us!
Also, as you are shooting and editing keep in mind it doesn’t matter how difficult it was for you to make the image. It doesn’t matter how much you love the photograph or what you think it is saying. It only matters if your viewer is going to understand what you are communicating. If you have to explain the image, the picture simply isn’t doing its job. Sounds harsh, but those are the rules we photographers must live by.
Keep shooting and pushing yourselves to Find and Photograph Family!
Matt Moyer + Amy Toensing
National Geographic photographers
Editor's Update #1
To look through the first round of submissions, we sat down at the computer as a family – Matt holding our new daughter and Amy “driving” the computer. There were so many nice photographs, and we loved seeing real moments captured with intimacy and thoughtfulness. We could tell many of you were photographing your own families and friends. That is wonderful!
A few things to remember as you continue to work on this assignment. To make a more intimate photograph, get closer and on the same level of your subject. And as many of you photograph your own families and friends, you must be sure to keep pushing yourselves to see the familiar in new ways. Finally, we won’t be selecting photographs that are overly processed or show other signs of heavy Photoshopping, It’s our belief that if you have to rely on Photoshop to make an image work, then you didn’t do your job in the field when you shot it! Converting to black and white is okay, but if you do something crazy with the color and end up with purple skies you have gone too far.
Keep shooting! We can’t wait to see more of your images.
National Geographic photographers