Leaving the Nest: Photographing the Graduation Experience

Slate published a little piece of heart-tugging writing in from Rob Lowe this week. It’s about his son going off to college,and it’s gone viral. The writers over at Slate might take offense, but the piece made me think of Us magazine’s regular section called “Stars—They’re Just Like Us!” That’s where you’ll see gems like Orlando Bloom putting a bottle in a recycling bin, Jennifer Garner giving her child a piggyback ride, and Katherine Heigl pulling her own suitcase. As if we thought they lounged about ordering Oompa Loompas to do these ordinary things for them:

Lowe’s piece of writing actually does show him to be “just like us” in a more believable way. He describes, really well, how the days surrounding his son’s departure made him fragile. And he nails what I think a lot of parents are experiencing right now with graduation dates approaching, a heavy mix of pride and sorrow. Those leaving-of-the-nest blues are nothing to scoff at.

Lowe’s article got me thinking about capturing what he so beautifully captured, but doing it with a camera. I don’t think graduations are typically photographed with nearly the art, truth, or beauty that births and weddings are. After the formal photograph of the grad smiling broadly in the sunshine, what of the piles of neatly folded clothes sitting in the new suitcase? What of the hand on a shoulder, diploma curled into it? What of the tassel brushing mom’s cheek as she steals another hug?

Make no mistake, I like formal graduation photos. We make beautiful things with them in our store, and I think they’re an important cherry on top of those annual school pictures that started back in kindergarten. And by cherry, I do mean they’re something special and different from what’s come before them. Yet I think sometimes parents who get them mistakenly think they’ve properly captured something they haven’t. Sure, they’ve caught a moment from a rite of passage, but not the passage itself.

To do that takes really looking, paying attention to the details, paying attention to what causes you to feel something and how, and thinking of the camera as an extension of yourself.

Graduation photos memorialize a ceremony or a stage in a life. What of the experience of leaving the nest after a lifetime of work toward that? As you get ready for the graduation season, I challenge you to find ways to capture that passage in images. Grab your camera and capture this enormously important and emotional transition with the care you would give to a birth or marriage!




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