Most of us know how uncomfortable and awkward family photo shoots can be. But when photographer Justin Van Leeuwen, known on Flickr as jlvphoto, is behind the camera, it’s pretty much guaranteed everyone is having a great time — especially when it involves his family.
“I like creating fun and extreme images,” Justin says in this week’s edition of The Weekly Flickr. “People are flying through the air, kids are breakdancing on the ground; things outside the norm. With a few exceptions, there aren’t going to be a lot of people with family photos like mine to show their friends. And I love it!”
Justin lives in Ottawa, Canada, with his wife Melanie, step-son Owen, 15, and his two boys Quinn, 5, and Alex, 3. He describes his family as a tight knit group.
“The best part of my family is that we don’t take ourselves too seriously,” Justin says. “I am quirky guy and like a little fun in everything I do. I think it’s rubbed off on my kids too. Sometimes you gotta have some levity in life, and our photos together reflect that.”
Justin’s first extreme family photo shoot came about as a matter of necessity, getting a Christmas card together with all three boys knowing they wouldn’t all be at the same place at the same time. He decided to make composites, building the photos over time.
“Owen was off to his dad’s so I shot him first,” Justin explains. “Alex was napping because he was two at the time, so we got Quinn on the bed jumping. When Alex woke up, we shot him. We actually tossed him back and forth over the bed, and he had a great time! When the kids went to bed, I photographed my wife and I on a self timer. I later layered it all into Photoshop, and I came up with a fun image. It was great!”
The positive feedback from that year’s Christmas card encouraged Justin to take more photos. But more importantly, he realized his family had fun taking them.
“Our shoots are sort of like playtime for the kids,” Justin explains. “They jump around, play with beer bottles, cooking utensils, pots and pans. I’m encouraging them to do some really quirky looking things like jumping off the couch — stuff that, yeah, normally I don’t encourage. So they get a kick out of doing this weird stuff, but the trick afterwards is to get them to stop.”
Justin’s take on family photography is to break away from the static posed shots and portray something unique in families.
“I’m able to take each characteristic, personality, mannerism and put them on display one by one so that everyone looks their best, everybody is being themselves,” Justin says. “In my mind, that’s what makes a great photo.”
Justin admits his quirky personality plays a lot into his images, giving it an edge or a spin. He gets people to do things that don’t necessarily makes sense, but makes for a good image.
“I’ve always pushed people’s buttons,” Justin admits. “I like challenging what they think should be normal or what their comfort levels are. I do it in person, and I’m doing it visually in my photographs. Like with Delicious Little Brother. Alex was on the stove with a little flame underneath. That photo went up on the Daily Mail and the comments were terrible! The people think I’m cooking my kid, and it’s ridiculous! But it made a good photo.”
Justin feels his photography is more than just a livelihood, rather it’s a representation of his family.
“It’s something that when I’m gone, other people will be able to see,” Justin says. “I love my kids. I love my family. I love being able to give them something unique and fun. I mean it’s my kids. I’m just so proud of them.”