I use that term here like you know what it means, so I should probably make sure you do. It’s definitely nothing akin to those Olan Mills or JC Penney portraits your mom made you sit for in grade school (man I hated those). And now that I’m also offering films, I broadened my term to “documentary family storytelling” to cover both photography and video – which sounds even more vague. So it’s time for some definitions here!


What is documentary family storytelling?

Let me start by telling a story of my own.

I became a mother in 2006. I was prepared for the love and bliss and bonding, but no one prepared me for the postpartum depression, the loss of my autonomy and personal space, the overwhelm. It’s a lot to process; there’s so much good and so much discomfort, and it’s hard to hold both at once.


I found myself making sense of my new life through my camera, catching the light on my son’s eyelashes, the way his tiny toes curled, his chubby knuckles. I needed to stop time for a moment to examine the beauty of my very ordinary, yet somehow wildly extraordinary, life. 


Photography became therapy for me, an archive of images that told the story of what I held most dear. Soon after my second son came along, I started telling stories for other families. That was 2009, and we’ve since added a third son to our brood, as well as four foster daughters along the way. Through the joys of these additions, and the successive heartbreaks of losing our foster daughters, photography has been the way I make sense of my life.


So…what is documentary family storytelling? It’s me showing you the poignant beauty I see in your life through photographs and family films. It’s there, I promise you.

FamilyEmily Lapish