The Art of the Family Photo

I had the chance to visit with my parents and sister this past weekend. She owns one of those big fancy Nikon cameras, and she’s always taking photos of everything (and I mean everything). Her kids are pretty young and they seem to be used to it by now, pausing in mid-whatever-they-were-doing and smiling at the giant lens pointed their way. But the rest of us are not used to it, and we often protest with all kinds of reasons–we just woke up, we aren’t dressed properly, or we don’t want to be caught at a weird angle with a double chin–the list goes on and on. She announced almost as soon as she arrived at our parents’ house that she intended for us to all get dressed up and do a family photo, and there was a collective groan from everyone in the room.

“Do we have to take picutres outside? It’s SO HOT outside right now,” Mom complained.

“Do I really have to get dressed up? Can’t we do a casual photo?” Justin whined.

“We can take photos indoors if you want, and we can make it a casual photo, but we really need to take one!” my sister responded, with a tone that suggested the topic was closed for discussion.

However, the other night I was looking through some old family albums, and I realized that my sister is really doing us a great service. After flipping through pages and pages of old family tomes, I realized that “the family photo” is much less hassle today than it used to be in past years. Take this photo for example:

This is a picture of Robert Pinson (pictured in the back, center) who was something like my great-great-grandfather. I can be grateful that family photos no longer involve dressing up in suspenders or wearing thick black stockings with long-sleeved dresses! And as the two little girls in the front could probably attest, standing and posing for photos taken with the slow, old-fashioned cameras was probably no picnic either.

Another thing I’m grateful for is that because photos are so much easier to take, they are much more casual now. This is Robert Pinson again with his wife who are, for some inexplicable reason, posing in front of a giant moon face. I wonder if photo props will ever come back into style? I remember my fifth grade school picture, posing with my hands neatly folded across a stair banister, and a backdrop of an open window behind me. So glad I don’t have to take photos like that anymore!

Here’s a shot of my mom, uncle, aunt, and grandparents doing a formal pose in front of a giant curtain. It’s a cute picture, but like the moon photo above, you can tell that this isn’t really natural. The family doesn’t sit around all dressed up in suits and ties on a daily basis. I like that photographers today really try to capture people looking a bit more natural, with bare feet, sipping a cup of coffee or reading a book.

This is a more natural shot of the same family members (before my aunt was born), and I like it a lot better. I also like that my grandpa looks like a rock star in this photo!

How many of us miss Olan Mills? Filing into a dark studio with those inverted umbrella things, and weird fuzzy boxes to sit on lining the floor…it creeps me out just thinking about it. Not to mention all of the unnatural contortionist poses they always put people in. “Tilt your chin to the side! Shoulders back! Wait…try putting only your left shoulder back and leave your right shoulder up. Now cross your ankles..” Ugh! I never enjoyed going to those places. And group shots in a place like that are especially difficult! “Well, everyone looks great except for the gentleman in the back with his eyes closed. Let’s try it again…well, that time the little lady in the front was picking her nose. Let’s give it one more try…uh oh! Grandma just sneezed. We’ll need to do another one…” (By the way, that’s me in the front sitting on my grandma’s lap. I was about three years old when we took that picture.)

Here it is…our first family attempt at more casual photos. Except this one is a little too casual. It is very 90’s, with everyone wearing ugly T-shirts and with their jean shorts (everyone but my great-grandmother in the center, who wore a dress every single day of her life–classy lady!). Perhaps if we had known that this would be the last time we would all be together in the same room (with my great-grandmother, at least), we would have chosen our outfits a little more carefully, or taken our picture somewhere other than the green leather couch in my parents’ living room. (That’s me again in the bottom center, with the shuttle launch picture on my shirt.)

That last photo really made an impression on me. We were capturing a valuable moment in our family’s timeline, but as far as the children were concerned, it was just an annoying compulsory break from the swimming pool. In fact, when I was growing up, I would purposefully make a sour face in some family photos (even the expensive ones at Olan Mills!) just to express my annoyance with the whole family-photo process. Imagine the legacy I’m leaving behind for my great-great-grandchildren, who may be looking at those photos someday, and may even actually be posting them online on their blog…”Who’s that one in the front sticking out her tounge  and crossing her eyes?” “Oh her? Idunno what her problem is. I think she’s my great-great-grandmother or something.”

So when Justin walked down the stairs on the morning of the family photo wearing basketball shorts and a t-shirt, I was horrified, and I marched him right back upstairs to change. “But she said it was casual!” he protested. But I don’t think it’s too much to ask him to wear a button-down shirt and some shorts that actually have a zipper. Especially not when I consider that my sister is capturing a moment in our family’s timeline that will last for a long, long time. I’m pretty sure he’ll thank me one day. (Maybe.)

But I really need to thank my sister for taking photos that are not full of ridiculous props, or embarrassingly stiff and posed. She takes natural photos that capture who we are, and what we were doing that day, and how we were feeling. Her pictures are beautiful, and just by remembering to take them (and insisting when we protest), she’s preserving a little piece of our family timeline forever.

This year’s family photos are not out yet, but here are a few of last year’s, taken in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee:

Mom and Dad

Update: Our 2012 Family photo!:

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Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “The Art of the Family Photo

  1. I grew up in the family that was ALWAYS taking photos and my husband grew up in a family that never took photos (as in there are almost zero photos of him from age 13-18, haha!). Anyway, he has gotten used to my picture taking ways and loves it now. It was a bit of an adjustment for him at first, but I can tell you for sure that the first time HE suggested we take a photo of us doing something I nearly flipped for joy, haha! We both love it now. Our poor kids are doomed. 😉

  2. Haha! That’s the way to be! Sometimes it’s aggravating to have someone taking photos of everything, but then later when you’re thinking back on good times, you wonder, “Do we have any photos of that?” 😀

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