Since a good percentage of the subjects I photograph are young children, I’m most accustomed to sessions involving lots of physical touch. Not only because little ones express themselves easily and naturally this way, but parents very often have to physically hold on to their offspring to even keep them in the frame. Babies are cuddled and cajoled, toddlers are corralled, and pretty much the only shots attainable of young siblings together require one to have another in a headlock. So touch is a given at these sessions.
I guess you could say it’s ignorance that causes me to automatically ask adult groupings to move in close and hug one another. And when I do I’m often met with hesitancy and puzzled looks. “Move it close?” ”To a family member?”. Pretty scary stuff, I know. Interestingly though, if everyone is able to move beyond the initial awkwardness, this often becomes the source of the most unexpected fun and genuine tenderness. I think the trick is helping the participants to stay with the warm feelings and ignore the logic that creeps in saying it’s just plain weird. Staying is the key. It’s easy for us adults to give a quick perfunctory hug at the airport saying hello and good bye, but to let our arms linger long enough to feel another’s heartbeat or heartache, that is the healing, melding energy of love. We all crave it at the same time that we fear it.
Becoming aware of this as photographers should help us to recognize what an incredible gift we can offer our subjects. Not only in photographs that may reflect the fleeting beauty of a life perpetually in motion, but also the felt experience of remembering the delicate power of touch.