Lauren Mitchell is game to show up (in mismatched socks) on your doorstep and photograph the heck out of your daily life. The comfort she effortlessly exudes is reflected back in the natural expressions, movement and gestures of this Delray Beach family. Lauren, a Florida based photographer, makes you feel like you’ve known her from back in the day. Or just wish you had. Her words pack as much punch as her intimate, unapologetic and vibrant lifestyle family images. Below, Lauren recollects the experience of documenting this family’s life with her signature humor and candor.
If you’ve lived here long enough, you’ll begin to notice that the flora and fauna change subtly down the peninsula from swampy pine forest to Jurassic Park. Where I live is right about where these two environments meet in some confused handshake — pine cones and coconuts, people. When you live in Florida, you’re used to confusing things. A few months ago, a 9 foot alligator visited our local McDonalds and no one really thought much of it.
However, for this family session I was headed farther south, where no backyard would be complete without a banana plant, a mango tree, a swimming pool and possibly a wild iguana stuck in the fence. I’m not quite sure where it really begins feeling like south Florida, but you know it when you’re there. The air feels a little thicker (not sure how that is possible but it is), the architecture gets a little more pastel and the drivers go obscenely faster. Also, their palm trees look so much cooler than ours.
If you’ve never been to Delray Beach, well, neither have I. The downtown and the beach, anyhow. The neighborhoods, side streets, schools and doctors offices where everyday, normal life happens? I’ve been there. It was right where this beautiful family of three resided, nestled down a quiet street beside historic 1920s bungalows and a little lake that eventually leads out to the Atlantic.
As a photographer, I’ve learned to be prepared for anything. Each session I take with me a lesson, whether it’s a wedding or a newborn. The lesson here? Wear matching socks, because you never know when you’ll be asked to take your shoes off, and really, you should expect that every time. Also, you’re not five years old. And I’m not saying they were purple and green or spots and stripes – they were beige and less beige – but still. Be a big girl.
I arrived at their home, beige/less beige and all, while their 7 month old son was taking his first nap of the day. Dad was soon to come home after a quick errand, and mom greeted me, bringing me to the kitchen for coffee. So okay, let’s just get this out of the way because I’m sure you’re thinking what I was thinking — that is a gorgeous kitchen.
The entire house was beautiful. They had not too long ago moved in, only a handful of moving boxes remaining until they were completely settled in. Artwork hung on the walls that was made by Mom, except for one particular photograph to which I asked “Oh, is this a picture of someone you know?” and she replied, “No, it’s Edward Weston“. This, combined with the fact that as soon as music began to play in the house, it was Fleetwood Mac and friends for the entire time, I thought “Hello, favorite family ever”. Yes, I was the 13 year old girl in 1997 begging her mother for those semi-goth black dresses in the back of Hot Topic so I could look like Stevie Nicks. Let’s face it, I still wish I could.
I have come to realize with each session is that it’s the little gestures, touches and moments among parents and children that resonate with me the most. Crusty nose checks. A tiny kiss on the forehead. A swipe of mango from a messy cheek. One thing that Mom had wanted me to capture was how excited their son was to wake up and see them greet him at his crib. Watching him stir from the monitor in the kitchen, we headed over and sure enough, his smile lit up the whole room. Prior to the shoot, I had spoken with her about his personality, which might seem like an odd thing to ask regarding a 7 month old. But there are things about our children that as mothers and fathers we understand deeply from birth – basic qualities and deep characteristics that do not change over the years. To them, their son was observant, quiet, thoughtful — not one for a fit of giggles, but simply content with his world. That was exactly as I saw him that day as well. One of the most beautiful things to witness is how well parents know their children. There can be so much advice out there, often contradictory, and sometimes it prevents us from realizing how in-tune we actually are.
The remainder of the time was spent having playing tummy time, having a bottle or two, putting some tiny toes in the water and winding down for a nap. A pretty sweet life for a baby if you ask me. I left that afternoon as storm clouds approached, because this is Florida, and felt as I always do, bittersweet that I had to go.
It’s a strange but rewarding experience, being able to document the everyday moments of families in their homes. It’s like a free pass to be able to jump in to their lives as if you’ve known them for years, and then jumping out to part ways again. Each time I learn a little more about what it means to be a family, a parent and a person. And although each family and each story is completely unique, so many of the lessons are still the same.
Like wear better socks.