Helen Bartlett / Family Portraiture

My Inspiration – my Dad’s photographs of my childhood – the canoe


Thank you so much for the lovely comments in response to my first post in this new series exploring the photographs that my father took of me when I was a child – pictures that have inspired me and shaped my photography.

For the second post in the series, I have chosen this image of my brother and I canoeing on Kilder Water in Northumberland.

I love this picture because it brings back so many memories. Memories attached to photographs are such a wonderful thing. As so often happened on our family holidays, it was raining – oh, to be a child in the UK! We were out on the lake, cold, but having fun and somehow – I don’t quite remember how – my brother Giles has acquired the oar for my canoe. I’m stranded, paddling ineffectually with my hands, while Giles giggles at my predicament.

It’s an image that sums up our relationship so well – I’m laughing, my brother is laughing, and I can be absolutely sure that Mum and Dad on the shore are laughing as Dad takes this picture. To me, it’s a picture about close family relationships and about comradeship as we canoe together in the rain. It’s also about our parents and the kinds of holidays we went on as children, about the kind of people that they are and how that has shaped us. I’m still a firm believer that children are waterproof!

It’s also a great picture from a photographic point of view. If I was being pedantic, I would have straightened the horizon, but I love the lines and angles of the canoes, the oars, the sight lines as we laugh together. I love the soft light of the dark wet day. I have this picture framed and hanging on my wall near my front door, where I look at it on my way to work each day. It’s a picture that inspires me – I always hope to take pictures that my clients will enjoy so much twenty-five years after they were taken. Images that capture a moment but also a relationship, a friendship and what a brilliant thing it is to be a sibling.

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