The shoot done when their first child was born a year and a half ago was undoubtedly the most moving and emotional one I’ve ever experienced. It was a purely transcendent occasion where the presence of the divine simply couldn’t be denied, and permeated every inch of the space we occupied together. I remember it mostly as a feeling of such profound lightness that it was as if all of us were floating and swirling together with no differentiation between us at all and no beginning or end. It was a love story made complete by the arrival of a baby born to a couple who’d survived substantial adversity and come out on the other side together. All of us participants on the day of that session were acutely aware of the miraculousness of the moment, which caused everything to be elevated by an enhanced sensitivity and appreciation.
How does one follow up such an extraordinary event? Sequels are almost never as magical as the original, leaving everyone just a little disappointed and nostalgic for what was previously. So while I was happy and grateful to be asked to return and photograph their newest addition when he arrived, I wondered how I would deal with my self-imposed high expectation and comparisons to that first remarkable experience.
I found out the night before the shoot that the family had moved, with the new home being incredibly dark inside. The master bedroom, where I’d done the entire shoot previously, was completely unworkable in this new home, and the only spot I could locate with adequate light at all turned out to be the “cat room”, which mostly consisted of enormous cat climbing equipment and not quite as conducive to an intimate family session as a bedroom might be. The trio of cats didn’t appear to be any happier than I was with this arrangement, and glared at me as if to let me know I was a most unwelcome guest.
Whereas the previous newborn session was held on a peaceful Sunday morning with soft music in the background and a weekend kind of feel, this was midweek, where we were serenaded by the sounds of the cleaning lady vacuuming in the next room, phones ringing, and the nanny trying to encourage big sister to please join our photo game in progress. Are you getting the impression that this was a decidedly different atmosphere than what was described the first time around? Well it was, and at a certain point I found myself seriously questioning how I might extract any sort of tranquility from the environment at all.
It was when I noticed myself kind of mentally exiting from the shoot that it hit me. The mom was feeding the baby, I was checking emails on my phone and thinking about a hundred different things when I suddenly stopped and said to myself, “show up, Cynthia”. I wasn’t there to recreate a previous moment, I was there to be present for a new moment. All that was required of me was to fully show up and bear witness to what was here and now. There is such freedom in immersing oneself wholly in the present. This is the place where subtle nuances become evident, and invite us to revel in the beauty of the curve of an arm or the nearness of lips about to meet. All is worthy of our attention and awe.
And so this day was nothing like the one we spent together when their first child was born. But this baby is every bit the miracle of the first, and the love between all members of this family just as rich and palpable as I’d observed previously. Most importantly, I simply showed up and committed myself fully to this work that is continuing to break down the walls that my fears attempt to erect.