Shutterbugging for Distance and Other Family Art


"Well, it might be Uncle Irvin..." Mom suggested hopefully, leaning in close to the photograph, as if proximity were the answer and not, say, use of the Hubble telescope.

She was right, though-- the bald dome rimmed in snowy hair was a reasonable clue. But it could have been Grandpa, too... Or that husband of second cousin Margie... Or brother-in-law Everett with a pink cap on.

Yep, Gramma Edna's composition style was less about facial features and more about full-body shots and aerial photography. Photo after photo showcased microscopic individuals lined up in some green field to be squinted at-- from teeny workboot to tiny cowlick.

Now, every photo promised feet in the shot. But heads, they were optional. Gramma Edna ran about a 50% chance of beheading. So at family reunions, you just can imagine we understood the value of distinctive footwear.

Ah, but such were the days before digital cameras. Today, we could have just cropped in to see cousin Jarhead's chocolate milk mustache. Or Aunt Gussie's real one. Or the logo on that flash sneaker.

Alas, all we're left with is eyestrain-- and boxes of photographs featuring people we assume are us. Could be there was a mixup at the photo lab and our memories are actually those of the Butterfield family in Iowa... we wouldn't know.

But we have to take some things on faith, I guess.

My dad, on the other hand, has always been a photographic perfectionist. Which means he would much rather have the lighting at an artistic angle-- a striking arc of brightness and shadow--

Than anyone in the photo actually looking, say... happy... or attractive...

Or, after the first 40 minutes, not thinking of shoving that zoom lens to dark, cavernous nether-regions.

So he'll stand there fiddling with the settings while aged posing family members die off, one by one... Until not one person in the pic is smiling any more.

And a few of those now suffer rigor mortis.

As a result, my growing up years include photos of Mom and I in the middle of whispering mutinous discussions. Smiles are forced, eyes mid-blink. If you look carefully, swords have been drawn from their scabbards and the plank is prepped in the background.

The Pop will gladly elaborate on how good the sunlight looks falling across its woodgrain.

It's fun, these family moments.

But, for those of us in this digital age, I wonder what we'll leave behind? Shots of questionable dinners we ordered and blogged about?...

Everyone in the family done Warhol-style?...

Embarrassing photos of our cats which we could use to blackmail them, if Mr. Fluffy had any sliver of shame?

I just hope I never go missing and they need a photo for a milk carton. I can see family and friends explaining it to the cops now:

"Well, you can have this one where her friend Photoshopped her into a zombie (no, we don't know where the original is)...

This one where she's cross-eyed and sneezing but the lighting on the landscape is simply stunning...

Or that one from '89 which is either her or a small tree. Your choice."

So tell me about the shutterbugs in your family, folks... What's on your milk carton?

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18 comments:

Da Old Man said...

Oh no! Dredging up family memories that had been successfully buried..."Just take the stupid picture, Dad."..."No, we will not pose for another. Just take a picture of the boat, and pretend we were in it."

Jenn Thorson said...

Da Old Man- Oh my gosh, "Just take the stupid picture, Dad" was my mantra! :)

Jaffer said...

"Well, you can have this one where her friend Photoshopped her into a zombie"

I smiled. I really really did ! :)

My dad bought a camera around the time when I was born. He took a lot of pictures of me and my family then - but he had caught on the idea of being candid and at the same time use a powerful flash.

Mom doing laundry, aunt praying, grandma kneading floor, me taking a bath - good pictures.

There there are those showing Aunt holding me with closed eyes, me playing with dials of a very bright glowing box (TV), Uncle looking into lens as if staring at the sun with no protection.

I don't have any of those pictures with me. They must be with my parents.

Dads interest in photography waned around the time my brother was born so there are not many baby pictures of him.
And then he left the camera untouched gathering dust for years until he gave it to me.

I have yet to take even one picture from that camera.

Jenn Thorson said...

Jaffer- It usually does end up that the later kids aren't in photos as much as their older siblings.

I like candid photos that seem to reveal something special about the subjects.

Anonymous said...

In my family I am in a zillion baby photos as my sister was old enough to find that interesting, right as I was born. From the age of five to my teen years there are decidedly less photos of me as my lazy eye and subsequent glasses appeared along with a horrible Dorothy Hamil haircut mother insisted on.
Once my sister had kids, she lost it. She is a complete perfectionist (can you say OCD and mean it?) and her kids are programed to pose and smile at a single word, no matter their mood or circumstance. It is amazingly frightening to behold. I believe, if you put all the pictures of them together and flipped through them quickly, you could actually watch them both grow up (in daily increments) right before your eyes.

Sue

Jenn Thorson said...

Aw, Sue, one of my friends had that Dorothy Hamill haircut, too. Funny, seems the only one it actually worked for was Miss Hamill. Your sister's photo sessions sound a little scary. They didn't move to a place called Stepford, did they? :)

Melanie said...

Hopefully I never go missing because my husband would be scratching his head saying, "Well, she took all the pictures, so I don't have one of her. But you know, she's tall-ish and ummm.....uh....well, maybe you can recognize her in the christmas picture with the kids blocking her head."

Jenn Thorson said...

Melanie- Yup, I can see it now. They'd have to cut around one of the kids and they try to flesh out the missing features with Technology. :)

Prefers Her Fantasy Life said...

If I were to disappear my family would have a hard time finding a photo of me--I am the shutterbug. I am the Walrus....doot doot di doot.

The Great Fox Hating Potentate said...

Yeah, my mom fancied herself a more than amateur shutterbug and had every new gadget for her super duper ultra Skynet...er I mean Nikon camera out and blinding us practically every weekend. All that effort and the only pictures that look at all decent from the era of bad hair and tapered jeans are polaroids lol

Jenn Thorson said...

Meg- Heh, all they'll have are photos of action figures and those creepy baby heads that were on your staircase risers. "Have you seen this woman?" And it'll be a photo of your Cher doll. :)

Julian- Ah yes, and why is it the quick snaps are always better than the ones where you post for a half hour?

unfinishedrambler said...

I can't imagine why you wouldn't his camera (rolling eyes). Actually my father-in-law and, shock of shocks, my sister are photographers extraordinaires. My father-in-law though is like your father was, having to have everything set up just right (yawn, I'm going to read this book while I'm waiting, all right). My sister, on the other hand, just snaps away at every darned thing (not that she's not talented -- that's in case she read this ;). Of course, I should n't talk. Ask my wife about me taking picture of my Bawls (no, not those, bottle of Bawls energy drink). :)

Jenn Thorson said...

Rambler- Lisa's photos are really quite good-- and I don't envision her getting young Jonny to sit still for a half hour while she gets the lighting right. :) Thanks for clarifying about the Bawls-- I was...worried.

Margo said...

Most of the pictures my mom took have her finger over part of the lens. In the others with her in them, her eyes are always closed. There are several pictures of me doing things that I did only once... like knitting, playing in a piano recital, and running in a 5k It's like Mom knew they were rare occurrences and needed to be captured the first time around. Very few photos of things like, say, birthdays?

Jay said...

Hahaha! That was funny.

My Dad was a great photographer. He had one of those bellows type film cameras and he took a lot of family pictures, and also pictures of buildings, landscapes etc. He was a perfectionist, but I don't remember any mutinies, he didn't take that long to set up the shots, and yet his photos usually turned out very well.

Me? I'll probably just leave hundreds and hundreds of pictures of dogs!

ettarose said...

I had all the really good pictures taken of me growing up. The ones I am most proud of are of the ones before I grew into my horse teeth, wore black rimmed glasses, bange cut as close to the scalp as possible and a "scar your daughter for life" home perm. My best friend fell on the floor in convulsions the first time she saw the wall of shame at my parent's house. Then came the great invention the movie camera. I can picture the movies of my Aunt with the "Water Wiggle" in the backyard dancing around. Oh the memories you have dredged up. I have an awrd for you at my place. Best thing is there are no strings attached.

Shieldmaiden96 said...

I grew up with two generations of semi-professional photographers. I was 14 before I found out that one of the two drawers in the bottom of the refrigerator is NOT NECESSARILY a film drawer, and that not everyone has a spare bedroom in their house that is used as a darkroom.

I've been photographed opening presents, confronting wild geese, feeding goats, artistically lit in groves/woods/fields/as the afternoon sun slanted in my grandmother's kitchen, and in one horrifying incident at a Shriner's circus, nose to nose with a CLOWN. My grandfather loved taking pictures of people eating. Every single shot at our family reunions that weren't posed on the bench with toddlers on knees is of someone cramming the last two inches of a hot dog into their mouth.

Jenn Thorson said...

Margo- So the legacy for those after you will be to think you were a regular knitter, and yet miss all the actually important events in your life? :) Niiice.

Jay- Well, we know you have enough greyhound snaps to keep the Greyhound Pinup Calendar business pretty busy. Also, you have a FINE collection of Johnny Depp shots-- this we know. :)

EttaRose- I believe I have some of those glasses and emotions-scarring perm shots myself. I sympathize. And thank you for the award! I will check it out.

Shieldmaiden- I love the detail about the kitchen fridge. That kind of eccentricity just sums up families so well. PS- Don't you have clown fear like I have? (I think Bryan told me that once.) How on earth did you survive the Shriner's incident??)