Portraits, or Insights On Portraiture From A First Birthday Party

Kai and great-grandad
Kai and great-grandad

It’s about relationships.” That was the refrain looping in my head the entire time.

Birthday boy

Covering a one year old’s birthday party is a singularly unusual gig for me. Young children + mass social gathering = one traumatised hermit.

But I make exceptions for important people, like my friend Smita. The birthday boy here, is her son Kai. It is undeniably special to be included in the passage of life of my closest friends. To ring in milestones, celebrate triumphs, and mourn pockets of sadness together. In the last few years, it has been to hold their children. I first met Kai shortly after he was born, and have had the privilege to watch his family evolve to enfold him since.

Kai’s first birthday party was held at home, and I was there to keep a record of that big day, eat cake and drink wine. His extended family are an affectionate, madly expressive bunch and made my job of capturing the unique relationship they all have with one another, almost too easy. It turned out too, that a birthday party was a great place to catch these key relationships – definitely something I didn’t expect! It’s not everyday I manage to nail that fragile contact between people, but I did then, over and over again.

These are a few from a set of about a hundred that all share the particular intimacy unique to their family. I mentioned in the last post, how uncomfortable I am in general with portraiture. But that day, surrounded by many young children, smack bang in the middle of a party, where I would normally have wilted/imploded, I learnt how to make a portrait.

Kai and dad

Kai and grandma

Kai, mum and dad


  1. sabrina says:

    These are really special Charlene, and Kai is fortunate to have these magical reminders of his first birthday. It is wonderful too, to see how much more comfortable you are with making portraits. I suspect that while there was a little bit of pressure (self-imposed?) to make great portraits, the fact that you already had a relationship with the family made a difference. As Brian M. said earlier: “Relationships first, portraits second.”

    1. Brian Miller says:

      Tee here! You quoted me quoting (or at least paraphrasing) Ray! (That guy gets around!! :)

      1. sabrina says:

        I guess that proves I do listen…sometimes.

    2. charlene says:

      Hehe, I did these ages before I got to the USA. Didn’t feel pressure – having a relationship with the family (as you pointed out) made all the difference, as did the great atmosphere of happiness/love/togetherness. It was special.

  2. peta says:

    Beautiful captures, beautiful memories….

  3. The pictures shared from the first birthday party tell us a lot! Your love, care, tenderness, attention, and endearment.

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