Because life is a series of edits

On the Family Picture

In Family, Places, Places & Spaces, Young Ones on October 24, 2009 at 7:41 am

As you might discern from the title, we're scheduled for a 30-minute family photo session this morning at Forest Park. Unfortunately, it's going to be all of 45-degrees at the time of our 9 a.m. appointment, but at least it looks to be clear instead of rainy (otherwise, we were going to take the photos under The Muny awning, which would only be good if we got them to pay what we're paying as advertising).

Maybe it's because I don't consider myself particularly photogenic (or maybe I'm still scarred by the 1985 family portrait my mom, dad, and sisters had taken in front of an Olan Mills generic grey background set up in a Pike County hotel room – weird), but I've never really liked formal family pictures (I can't remove myself from the viewfinder); the other part is that, in the aforementioned family portrait in 1985, all of us dressed in pastel and looked like extras just off the set of Miami Vice.

Smiling is hard for me – not because I don't have things to smile about (nor do I NOT EVER smile, as some have accused me of); I just tend to smile at things that MAKE me smile, rather than because someone with a camera TELLS me to smile. Doing otherwise feels fake to me, and this feeling, combined with the fact that someone with a camera is about to capture my fakeness on film, makes me want to smile less.

I'm not one for posed portraits; I prefer a more candid approach. This, of course, requires more time than 30 minutes really allows, as it takes time for the family (okay, for ME) to feel comfortable enough to relax with someone looking at you through a lens and be photographed. I'm not a supermodel and am hardly infatuated with the idea of someone following me around with a camera to catch that perfect angle (actually, I don't think I have a perfect angle, let alone a "best side" – all mine are fairly flawed).

Crazy Horse refused to have his picture taken because he believed a picture stole the spirit of its subject. I think just the opposite: I hate having my picture taken because I've rarely taken one that I feel "captures" anything of who I am. Paul Simon once said that a song is like a picture that captures who you were at that time, but as you look back on it, you recognize that, indeed it's you, but it's NOT REALLY you, as you've changed.

I suppose that's why we take pictures, and I get the need to do so (especially if you have kids), but capturing such change and transition is why I write, not why I sit for a photo session. My daughters love playing with PhotoBooth on the Mac and capturing themselves in a picture, but I'm content to frame who I am with words rather than pictures, probably because words are black and white (and not pastel), or perhaps because there's a timelessness to words that pictures don't always preserve. I don't know.

All I know is I'm going to have to figure out how to smile for no reason today, and if you know me at all, I tend not to do much without a reason. At least the word most photographers use to coax a smile for the camera fits my thinking on the whole deal:


  1. As I recall, the fact that the clothes in the picture were coordinated was not actually planned, as we were at the stage where everyone was going in a different direction with school activities, work, etc., and whatever clothes showed up for the portrait appointment was what we went with! I remember snagging your shirt as I walked out the door, because you were meeting us after your stint at the radio station, and it was probably the only clean one in the closet! Miami Vice was a weekly experience for our family, so that accounts for the pastel look. I will have to admit the setting was a bit odd! :}

  2. You’re right, Char – the pastel wardrobe was completely unplanned, which gives one an idea of what we were all wearing then.
    The photoshoot went well, mostly because of our photographer/former neighbor, Kelly Park (check out her blog/website here). Since we know her and she knows us, she happened to have read my blog just before we showed up this morning and felt the freedom to give me appropriate grief (for the record, she never asks people to say “Cheese!”). We had a good time (our best photoshoot to date) and should have pics up in two weeks or so.

  3. So will we get to see the results? I hope so.

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