Adventures With the von der Burgs – Stockholm Documentary Family Photography
In November, I was so fortunate to be able to spend a couple of days with Edmund, Rebecca, and their three girls. Rebecca and I have been trying for a couple of years to get our travel schedules to align so that this could happen, so it was especially exciting that it worked out this time.
I caught up with Rebecca and her girls in Stockholm and we headed off to catch the ferry to Runmarö, the small island that they call home and, before I knew it, the shoot was starting as I caught sight of the girls playing in puddles in the car park. A short ferry ride later and we were transferring everyone to their other car, which they leave at the island’s ferry port when they make trips into the city. The island doesn’t have a car ferry, which means that the population has been kept small and the lifestyle on the 8 sq km island is both simple and rewarding. This family was spending their time on the multi-generational von der Burg family property and their temporary home turf is everything that I could’ve hoped for: heavily forested, covered in moss, dotted with homes coated with the traditional Scandinavian deep, earthy, rust-hued paint. The school has 16 children; the nursery has eight. Outside play is encouraged in any weather; they simply dress appropriately for it. The roads are dirt and gravel, and arriving by ATV, golf cart, foot, bike, or car are all equally likely (although, if the weather is clear, car is the least likely mode).
The von der Burg children are three little girls who made a huge impact on me. E is 5. She loves dresses and the colour pink; she’s a born leader and likes being in charge of the daily vitamin distribution; she consistently manages to drop her ice cream – bought using their money from recycling – on the ground; she loves to explore and isn’t shy about meeting new people; she proudly speaks English and “American,” as well as Swedish. ;) A is 3. She likes hair clips, choosing how Edmund will do her hair in the morning and making faces; she is an expressive speaker who switches back and forth between English and Swedish with astonishing ease for someone who only just learned a second language (Swedish); mornings and zippers are both challenging; and her demeanour bears a striking resemblance to a minion, which kept me in stitches for my entire visit. B rounds out the family at the ripe old age of five weeks. She loves feeding and cuddles; she’s a good sleeper as long as it isn’t family meal time (sound familiar??); she’s got impressive neck strength and is extremely curious. Oh, and there’s a fourth girl: Molly. She’s about 100 in human years and has been with Rebecca for what seems like forever. Although her age is starting to show, she still loves exploring the island; sitting in the sunshine; jumping in water; and tagging along to the next room to feel like she’s in on the action. It’s a rare occasion when Rebecca goes somewhere and Molly doesn’t follow.
Rebecca and Edmund show a faith in their children that is both refreshing and heartwarming. They trust their children to make the right decisions and simply redirect the girls when needed. They choose their battles – like whether what one wears to school is really important – and know what actually matters in the grand scheme of their family values (hint: it isn’t appearances; I loved the results that came from letting the girls choose their own clothes in the morning). Story time matters; cuddles matter; a rational understanding of the world around them and the way it works matters. They spend time focused on their children and play while still working towards larger goals that will help give their daughters a sense of the world in a greater context.
The detail about this session that will forever stand out in my mind is the complete trust that I was shown while with Rebecca and her family. I’m fortunate; my clients often voice those magic words: “Do what you need to do. I trust you.” But when you’re doing documentary photography and families open up their real home and their real lives, it leaves them exceptionally vulnerable. It would be so easy – and, perhaps, tempting – to show your ideal family life instead of your actual family life because you think the former will photograph better. There’s one thing I can tell you with complete certainty: Rebecca and Edmund’s actual life, complete with morning school rush chaos, meltdowns, accidents, meal times, play time, and LOTS of laughter, is all kinds of actual awesome.
I look back on that visit with glasses tinted a very specific shade of pink, but still struggle to pinpoint why I love these types of sessions so much. The activities that I was photographing were not unusual – morning wake up, breakfast, school drop off and pick up, the walk home from school, dinner, evening play and bedtime. There’s nothing special or unusual about any of those activities. Most families go through the same set of activities every school day. It’s the laughter, the occasional tears (poor A was pretty wiped out, so there were a few more tears than usual), the conflict and the tenderness that makes these particular images special for this particular family. That’s what makes these sessions meaningful. If I went back to visit in a year’s time, the results would be completely different. The exact details of which activity causes excitement, which one brings conflict, which child is expressing herself the most freely, and what moments emerge is what differentiates each family from the next and even one family from each year to the next. These sessions create a visual time capsule.
The photos from this session still make me smile all these months later. They stand not as individual photographs, but weave together to create a narrative about a family who work together and are honest with each other. Here are some of my favourite moments from my magical time with this little family.
I’m Ang – a Cornwall, Ontario-based photographer with a passion for capturing light and photographing natural moments in life as they happen anywhere in the world. My goal is to capture memories that you will cherish once your children are too grown up to curl into your lap for cuddles and the house seems oddly quiet at night. I love meeting new families in their natural environment and getting in amongst the bedlam so that I can document the perfectly imperfect realities of daily life. Please explore more of www.momentusstudio.com to see more examples of Cornwall, Ontario family photography.