The kids and I had professional pictures taken at the beach today in Mt. Maunganui. I've shot hundreds, maybe thousands of photos of Fiona and Finley on our world tour. I've tried to stretch my arm an extra few inches, dozens of times, to snap myself. But there's something about having a pro take the shots. They look better, and I get to make an appearance without asking a passerby: "Please take a picture; It's the silver button on top." Invariably, Passerby will stand way back and snap the photo. It's the wide-shot version of our lives. The slightly askew version. Sometimes, you want the well-framed close up.
I asked my friend, Jade, to recommend a Bay of Plenty photographer. She suggested Bridget Nickel. http://www.bridgetnickelphotography.com/ Bridget's website shows smiling families at the beach; around a tractor; on a trampoline. It's the kind of slice-of-real-life photography I found at home in Spokane from pros like Nikki Beylea http://www.moxieimages.com/ and Barb Chase. http://www.fineartbybarb.com/ The kind of pictures Sean, who was a professional videographer, used to take.
Nikki created our last set of family portraits at Manito Park in Spokane. It was October, 2009, and Sean lay in the hospital. Nikki volunteered her services. I didn't know at the time the "Party of 3" theme would apply to Fiona, Finley and I indefinitely. Nikki captured the kids playing in autumn leaves, standing near a tree, jumping, running... Then, she snapped the three of us together – a Mom and 2 kids. The pictures always tell the story, don't they? I printed several of those shots and taped them to the walls of Sean's hospital rooms. He moved between 3 facilities and at least 8 rooms. The photos moved, too. Leave one room - take the pictures. Enter another room – put them up again. Repeat, repeat, repeat... Those photos were priceless, and Sean loved them, too: "The one of Fiona and Finley near the tree," he said, "Put that in front of me, where I can see it."
Which pictures would I want in my bedroom or hospital room, whether healthy or sick? I want Fiona and Finley, laughing on the beach. I want to see the 3 of us against the backdrop of the iconic Mt. Maunganui, the extinct volcano that's become a source of orientation, recreation and fascination the past few months. I want to look at digital reproductions of blue sea and sky when I can't walk my own feet to the sand.
That's why I hired Bridget. Not simply to take pictures, but to tell our story. To capture this brief interlude – the New Zealand limbo. The place – geographically and psychologically - that allowed us to pause and allowed me to re-imagine our family as Party of 3. The place that still seems more fantasy than reality. Someday, I'll wake up to our new "real lives" in the States. I'll need evidence we were really ever here.
Getting the pictures, however, takes work. Before the shoot even started, Fiona had mucked up her black NZ t-shirt, and Finley was complaining his new track pants were falling down. Wind whipped hair into my lip gloss. The kids threw sand. This wasn't going to be easy.
Bridget, a young mum of a one-year-old boy, had an easy manner with the kids and took around 300 shots. She said, "I've had several families with young children say they felt the shoot was a train wreck. Then they're amazed to have good pictures. There are always some gems in there." I hope so, despite the fact Fiona and Finley sang, threw driftwood, collected shells and picked grass when they should've been smiling for the camera. The late afternoon sun was fickle, too. Most of the time it turned The Mount a hazy shade of gray. During the rare moments it passed behind a cloud, the kids may or may not have cracked a smile. Finley prefers something he calls the "baby face:" a bee-stung, lippy pout. I'm not buying "baby face" pics.
I brought the final teaspoons of Sean's ashes to the shoot in a Ziploc bag. The kids and I have scattered ashes from Ireland to South Africa to Australia to New Zealand's Coromandel Peninsula. I'd saved the last bits for Fiji and Hawaii. We still have a box of ashes in Washington, but this particular plastic bag, earmarked for the world tour, was nearly empty. I decided it was time to let it go. Fi and Finn insisted on burying several teaspoons of ash in the sand before flinging them into the ocean. I grabbed a fistful and sprinkled the water. The ashes whitened my palms, as if I'd been cleaning erasers at school (back when schools had blackboards and chalk). I thought of how honored I'd be (posthumously, of course, drifting or sparking Out There) if someone dirtied their hands in my earthly remains. Thanks, in advance.
Bridget snapped running-in-sand pictures; sitting-in-dunes pictures, and flinging-ash pictures. After an hour and 15 minutes, we were done - almost. "Would you like me to take one of just you?" Bridget asked. I hadn't considered a solo pic. "Yes," I said. "We're here – might as well." I can't wait to see what develops.