The photographer Rania Matar shares private moments with us: children deeply involved in playing, dreaming, laughing and, sometimes, sleeping. It was an unsuccessful series of pictures for a Christmas card, that led Matar to pick up the camera herself. A great love of photography developed, granting her a new way of expressing her love of family.
Why did you decide to document your personal family moments?
When I was pregnant with my fourth child, we had someone come and take pictures of our kids for our Christmas card. It was absolute chaos and the pictures felt contrived. Of course, they would be: they were posed to be holiday card pictures. I had done lots of art in college alongside my studies of Architecture, and decided to take photography workshops in the evenings – originally to take better pictures of my kids. I fell in love with the medium, and the pictures I was making were very different from what I thought I would be making. I fell in love with finding the beauty in the mundane and the everyday. Besides, I had 4 kids close in age and my household was absolute chaos. Photographing my children made me see the beauty, even in that chaos. It helped me deal with the stress of motherhood and slow down those fleeting moments. I owe all of my photography moving forward to this early work.
What could adults learn from the lives of children?
I’m grateful that when I was doing this work, there were no laptops and iphones. My kids enjoyed the very simple moments of being children, of living in the moment, of seeing the wonder of the simple things in life. Being with them and truly seeing them (through the viewfinder!) taught me at the time to also forget about everything else; to be fully present in the moment, and see the wonder of things around me that I didn’t even notice any more. I would stop worrying about dinner, bills, etc. I entered into their world and it was magical. I think all adults could learn this from children – I cherish those moments and remember them with immense fondness. But… I also worry that today, with all the technology, some of that magic is being taken away from the children themselves.
What do your children say when they see the pictures today?
I hope they like them. My children are now busy becoming adults and finding their way in the world. The pausing of time is no longer a luxury they have. I am sure they will treasure them some day. I do anyway!
Why did you decide to work with a Leica for this project?
First I used a Mamiya 7II, but I had to keep changing film every 10 images. I had a teacher then, Constantine Manos, who recommended I use a Leica. He was a Magnum photographer and a mentor for me. As I was used to photographing with a rangefinder, the transition was seamless and I fell in love with the camera. It was small and quiet and made my children forget about me.
If one of your children were to decide to work as a photographer, what would you recommend to them?
Regardless of photography, I always encourage my kids to follow their passion and find their own voice in the world. One of them took this to the extreme and is now biking from Boston to Patagonia all by himself. I am proud and, as a mother, also a bit anxious – understandably. I would say the exact same thing for photography. I would encourage them to find their voice and their passion, and to get out of their comfort zone; to stay creative and motivated.
Do you still document family moments?
Unfortunately, my children are no longer willing participants. That being said, my daughters still very much inspire all the work I do. All my projects have been about following women the ages of my daughters. In some ways I feel that I am photographing my daughters!
Born and brought up in Lebanon, Rania Matar moved to the USA in 1984. She studied Architecture and later Photography at, among others, the New England School of Photography. She received the Guggenheim Fellowship in 2018. In 2021 her book, She (Radius Books), was published: a series of portraits that present women and being a woman, beyond border limitations. Matar teaches at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. In March, 2022, Matar was the winner of the Leica Women Foto Project Award, an award for women photographers, granted once a year by Leica Camera USA. Find out more about Rania Matar’s photography on her website and Instagram page.
There is an interview with Rania Matar in issue 6/2022 of the LFI magazine.