Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Photo Op

Put that camera down, please.

No, I mean it.

OK, take my picture, but if you post it online I will kill you.

I have always been photographically challenged. Ask me to snap a pic of you at the beach or, Lord help us, at your wedding reception, and, when I finally figure out how to operate your camera, be prepared to hit the "delete" button because you will NOT look good. I guarantee it. I inevitably catch my victims with mouths hanging open, or blinking, or grimacing. With my digital wizardry, I can transform even a supermodel into a frump.

It's worse when the lens is turned on me. I have one stock expression (smiling) that is tolerable, and so I try to be grinning whenever the paparazzi draw near, even at funerals. Otherwise, the results are most unfortunate: it looks as if I am having a Bad Hair, Face and Body Day.

My sister C thinks she is very un-photogenic.  Therefore, our albums feature everyone BUT Carolyn. She's usually off in a corner with a bag over her head, lest a shot accidentally include her. My mom used to be equally camera-shy, and in truth she was much prettier in person than on film. The sad result, now that Mom's gone, is that we have precious few tangible reminders of her.

On our walls hang very old photos, some dating back to the early 1900s. It was such a different time; picture-taking was a rare event. Decked out in their finest, looking stiff and uncomfortable, Steve's grandparents sit, solemn-faced children on their knees, for a family portrait. My dad, at about nine months old, peeks out of an ornate baby carriage. I'm so glad to have these relics of the past, and when I look at them I imagine myself into their lives.
Tommy Cunningham, 1927

My kids are coming of age at the most visually documented time in history. The digital revolution has made photography ridiculously easy; it's not uncommon for one concert outing to spawn 100 or more cell phone pics ("There's Emily and me in front of the Electric Factory. Now we're making goofy faces. Now we're making goofy faces and pointing at each other," etc. etc.) These images are then loaded onto their computers, where they are added to the hundreds of albums already there.

My daughters make goofy faces
There must be a happy medium, between no pictures and a multitude, a place where my looking silly is OK. A place where C and I can be comfortable, whatever our facial expressions, knowing that the only reactions to our photos that truly matter are those of the people who love us. Looked at through the lens of love, anyone can be beautiful (try it yourself with even unfortunate shots of people special to you—they look fine, don’t they?)

All right, take my picture. I really don’t mind. Someday, my grandchild may see it, and remember me. And come on, C, get in the picture with me. Let’s make goofy faces.

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