Inspo: Why Family Photos Matter | Thomas Allen Harris

Lately I’ve been harping about the importance of photographing what you love. For me it’s family. When I first started taking photography seriously as a creative outlet, I didn’t view my family as subject matter, so I rarely turned my lens toward them. This is something I regret every day. Fast forward to today, now I’m a dad with a family of my own. All I ever photograph it seems is my family, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

I have vivid memories of my mom always with a camera nearby taking photos of milestones. It seems like her Kodak Instamatic was never too far. School play, snap. Thanksgiving, snap. Graduation, snap. All those photos tucked away in albums. Then on August 24th 1992 Hurricane Andrew makes landfall. At that time, Hurricane Andrew was the most destructive storm to ever hit the United States. Before the storm, I remember my mother putting the family photo albums and countless envelopes of negatives in garbage bags then putting those garbage bags into big blue plastic Rubbermaid tubs. It didn’t dawn on me until a few years later that she was protecting family memories, our history, our record. While our home was destroyed, those blue plastic tubs full of photos survived and so did our family history in photos. This left an indelible mark on me, motivating me to document my own family and more importantly PRINT those photos.

I recently discovered a show on PBS called Family Pictures: USA, a new three-part PBS series created and hosted by filmmaker and photographer Thomas Allen Harris, explores American cities, towns and rural communities through the lens of the family photo album. When I was doing more research about the show I came across this Ted Talk from its creator and host. If you are at all interested in photographing your family, telling your family story, it’s worth the watch.

As You Grow

Ever since my son was born I’ve been photographing with intent. The intent to document, preserve and tell a story for future generations of our family. Lofty I know. The photographs I’ve been making over the past two years have centered around my wife and son. Witnessing this relationship grow from day one is something that I really can’t put into words so I won’t even try. I’m just glad I’m around with camera to my eye to document it all.

As You Grow Vol 2. Documenting my son’s second year.

As You Grow Vol 2. Documenting my son’s second year.

What am I doing with this body of work? For starters very little of it makes its way online in the form of social media. I do share these images with family and close friends by way of a private family blog. Most importantly, I’m printing. I can’t stress this enough…print your photos. I’ll write a separate post on my printing process, but stop reading this post, go to your phone or your computer select photos and PRINT. Just do it.


For this book I made selects throughout the year, designed with Blurb Bookwright using “auto layout” , and hit print. About “auto layout” I was lazy with sequencing, these photos are sequenced in the order they were made. Super simple.


Is this a long term personal project? Not sure. I’m still working out what I’m doing in documenting my family. By that I mean there’s no artist statement, theme or grandiose philosophy. What’s important to me is that I’m MAKING these images and SHARING them with the people closest to me.


AS YO GROW, I guess is me, a dad, simply documenting our days for our family.

The long game is that by the time my son grows up and ventures out his own there will be printed images in both book form and boxes of photographs for him to take with him. I may not be around but he’ll at least have these photos. I’m gonna stop right there because my eyes are all watery, damnit.


Document your days. Print your photos. Peace.


His hustle, I’ve always admired it. His creativity, always envied it. His style, always peeped it.

Chris Clayton aka Chris Cardi in NE Washington, D.C.

My younger brother continues to live on his own terms. One thing is certain, us Clayton men are stubborn. But please don’t mistake the stubbornness for arrogance, ya see the arrogance is in the DNA. In all seriousness my brother Chris has always lived a creative life, he’s actually the first “creative” I’ve ever known. Growing up I’d watch him make his own board games, fashion his own clothing, always heads down in his sketchbook, always creating.

Takes balls to leave a comfortable corporate gig to follow your creative pursuits. I wish I had that courage. Oh and I wish I had that hustle, that creativity, that style.

As his company motto says: Live Fresh. Die spoiled.

Stay hustlin’ young man.

Now enough about him, back to me. This is my blog so get that spotlight back on ya boy, moi, me. More and more I’m enjoying making photos like this. Little photo essays, snippets of of my life. I used to love walking the streets for hours chasing that “decisive moment.” Side note, check out Daniel Milnor’s piece on street photography. My photography has evolved and Milnor’s piece put into focus what I’ve been struggling with.

Nowadays I just let the photos come to me, organically. Perhaps one day I’ll get off my ass and pursue a long term photo project. But right now all my photos are personal and I’m enjoying this document your days approach. That approach is taking my camera everywhere and let come what may.

This is 42

I’m 42. I don’t feel 42. But just because you don’t feel it doesn’t mean “it” isn’t happening, whatever “it'“ is. Last month I’ve been adulting real hard. Getting a home remodel kicked off and affairs in order like life insurance in case I kick the bucket my son will be taken care of. After a two year hiatus from going to the doctor, I finally went for my annual, ah scratch that, semi-annual check up. These need to be annual or my wife will kill me and these check ups would be all for not.

My father has had three bouts with cancer, dude has nine lives. While he’s still around it’s been touch and go. My grandfather died of prostate cancer. This could’ve been treated but he didn’t want to go to the doctor, this is problematic among black men. Don’t be stupid, go to the doctor, get checked out and handle your business.

For me, all systems are go.

Nothing like looking at your son in the face to realize your legacy.

This is 42.

Swedish Medical Center before I dropped trousers…

Swedish Medical Center before I dropped trousers…

Forty One

Today is my birthday. I'm 41.

Gosh, just typing that number is crazy. While I haven't reached official OG status, I'm enjoying this time in my life. I've got a beautiful family, we welcomed a son this year,  a gorgeous wife both inside and out that supports me no matter what. I've got no complaints. I won't use this post, to espouse any life lessons I've learned during my 41 years on this earth. I'm still trying to figure all this out.  

I will, however, take pen to paper and reflect on the photographic moments most important to me this year and what I'd like to do moving forward...creatively speaking. I've maintained this blog since 2012...that's like 20 years in dog years. It's time to change things up a little bit. The focus of this space has been street photography. I've enjoyed documenting random street scenes. But over the past year I can recall three instances that involved family and photography that impacted me deeply. 

While in Ann Arbor, Michigan last year, one of my dearest friends mother gave me a small purse filled with negatives. The purse had to be over 50 years old easy, and the negatives inside much older. She told me that the living family has never seen what's on those negatives, so I offered to take them home and scan them. Just being able to bring those images to life for this generation and next generation was truly special. 


Just this past week I got a text message from my brother-in-law who's mother passed away in December of last year after battling cancer. Just a year prior he said his mother would like to get some photos of the family. Not realizing the gravity of the situation, as I didn't really know the diagnosis, I met them at a local park and took some family photos. My brother texted me saying "Almost every week I look at every picture you took this day. This my mom in the happiest days of her life..." she passed away a few days before her grandson was born. This was my brother in laws first Christmas without his mother, but he had those photographs to cling too. 


In another instance, my brother met his nephew for the first time this October in NYC. I snapped a few photos of their meeting and framed one for his Christmas gift, his first photo of him and his nephew, his first photo as an uncle. He posted to Instagram, "I damn near cried opening this..."  

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Today on my 41st birthday, with my son on my lap my wife gave me my present. The label read "To: Daddy, From: Theo." It was a framed photo of me and my son, overcome with emotion I cried. This is the first printed photo of my son and I. 

I share all this because, you will start to see the images on this blog change a bit.  While one of my favorite things to do is to get out there and walk the streets, camera in hand making images, I don't love it like I used too. As I grow older, I feel a pull to turn the camera on my friends and family, focusing on the people close to me. My most fulfilling creative and photographic moments this year all involved people who I love dearly. That is something a street photograph will never duplicate. 

I lied, I will espouse a life lesson for all you photographers. PHOTOGRAPH and PRINT what you love.  

I know I will.