Tag Archives: Photography

What Is a Picture Worth?

The afternoon sun catches my son’s face, his often-serious tone. He’s lost in a thought, about chameleons or frilled lizards or some other scaly beast he yearns for. I snap a photo. He looks up at me. A wave of brown hair covers one hazel eye and he flashes that boyish grin that melts my heart. Snap. Got it.

My daughter chomps ice on the front porch, pretending to ignore me, looking everywhere but at my camera. Quickly she shoots a smile toward me, the ice as her teeth. Snap. She smiles again and crinkles up her freckled nose. She has the best smile, the kind that uses every muscle in her face. Without realizing it, you return the favor. Her smile is contagious. Snap. Snap. Even a photo can’t capture the beauty of it sometimes.

My kids complain that I take too many pictures. For all the moments I capture, there are tons more that I miss. First steps. That stink eye my daughter used to give us before bursting into a fit of giggles.

Do I need a picture of every moment of my kids’ childhoods? No. But I’m a sentimental person. I document in many ways to keep memories alive. Pictures fill in the holes of a memory that fades more each year, like a quilt airing in the sun. Even more, I want my kids to see themselves, to see how I see them.

I don’t have a lot of pictures of my early childhood. Sure, there are plenty of those awkward years that I’d like to forget. But I’d give anything to have more pictures of the good stuff: random shots of my sister and me playing in our rooms, snuggled in bed together every Christmas Eve, playing at the beach where we went every weekend, dressed in any Halloween costume. All of those memories are tucked in my head where I can show them to no one.

I want to see the old house where my grandparents used to live. The kitchen where my grandmother ate ketchup sandwiches and peaches and cream. The room that held the old fridge where I’d squat and decide which flavor of Nehi I wanted that day, or the upstairs bedroom where at age five I’d sit and talk to my great-grandmother in her bed. We’d rub our hands over the patches on her quilt and discuss our favorites. She told me I could have that quilt when she died, and it wasn’t long before I found it on my own bed. I wish I had just one picture of her and me together.

nehi

The bottles are smaller but oh, the flavor takes me back.

I wish I had pictures of a lot of things but I don’t. We simply didn’t take a lot of pictures. So I do it for my kids. I want to remember.

I look at pictures of my kids and I’m transported. I hear their voices, their giggles. I remember the moment. I snapped a shot of my daughter tasting sand in the sandbox and her brother giggling at her toddler stupidity. I treasure the image of the two of them snuggled in her crib after her nap. When she woke up, he’d race into her room and jump in with her before I could even stand up. I’d stand in the hall and listen as they giggled, so happy to see each other after two hours. Six years later, those few photos are all I have of those lost moments. Bedhead and sleepy eyes and dimpled grins, my son looking adoringly at his sister. And knowing my memory, fleeting moments like that in childhoods that pass too quickly would soon be forgotten, taken over by the next cute or funny thing.

So to me, ten thousand pictures is not too many. Nor ten thousand more. When you put them together, they’re a reminder of the beautiful life you are living.

lighthouseme

I even take pictures of myself from time to time. Usually I’m behind the lens.

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School Picture Day Captures the Awkwardness of Time

We, or I, picked out clothes last night. I sifted through stacks of T-shirts in my son’s dresser until I found something that didn’t have a picture of a Star Wars character on it. A Polo shirt would do nicely.

My daughter’s wardrobe proved easier: Dresses in many shades hung in a mad jumble in her closet. Brown with stripes would look good for fall.

School picture day is the one day a year I get to pick out clothes for my kids to wear. It’s an unwritten rule in this house. My day. So this morning my son put on his royal blue Diary of a Wimpy Kid T-shirt and threw on a white button-down over it. If he sits the right way, the words “Are You Ready to Rock?” show through his shirt, which will probably make him look washed out anyway. I didn’t feel like fighting it so early in the morning when everyone still had puffy eyes and bedhead. My daughter walked in wearing a charm necklace displaying giant baubles in a rainbow of colors and geometric shapes, sure to cast bright reflections in every direction. She adds her own touch to everything.

I will hate those pictures. I’ve just dished out $40 for pictures I will hate, at least for now. I buy school pictures every year and when they come home in my kids’ backpacks, I open them with fingers crossed, hoping this will be the year I love them. But no. My son’s hair has always been combed straight down over his forehead even though he wears it to the side. One year my daughter’s lips dried and curled up on her gums, disappeared entirely from the photo. My kids grimace, smirk, strain, or look like they can’t wait to get away from whomever stands on the other side of that camera. Just who do they send to take school pictures anyway?

It’s funny now to look back at the older pictures and say, “Oh yeah, that was the year you lost your front teeth,” or to my son, “That was the year you wanted long hair. Don’t try that again. It was a bush.” But 20 or 50 years from now, what will we think?

The thing is, when I look back at my own school pictures, they mark a passage of time, the same pose year after year. When you have them all together, nothing shows my transition from elementary school to middle school to high school better. Some pictures are cute, hideous, sad, but they are all me. They all mark my awkward progression through time. And as a mother, I really want that time line of my own kids for myself.

school pic

Muddled sixth-grade kid making her awkward way in 1986.

When the kids bring their school pictures home, I send them to family, put them in a scrapbook, and we wait. In ten years, those pictures with their tousled hair, missing teeth, giant baubles, and T-shirts will have documented more than I could have ever imagined. Maybe I’ll notice something I didn’t see before when I’m searching for something that I miss.

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A Santa Surprise

I didn’t think we’d visit Santa this year. Having a third-grader, I thought he’d deem telling his Christmas wishes to the man in the red suit too babyish. So when my son announced he did want a visit, of course we made a last-minute holiday dash. This, after all, will surely be the last year for him, and I couldn’t let the last opportunity to have both of my kids visit Santa together slip by.

At the head of the line, large signs displayed the rules: no personal photography. Now frankly, I’m cheap when it comes to buying photos of my kids. If I spend money, they better be good. I don’t want to shell out $20 for a picture of my kids on Santa’s lap even if it is for the last time. I’ve bought school pictures of my kids in hopes of quality material only to get squinty eyes and a goober grin that makes my kid look like a constipated, no-lipped goof. I don’t like paying for that mess. And I don’t like paying for Santa when I used to be able to snap my own unposed shots for free. I want candid photos of them talking to Santa or clamming up or whatever the experience may be.

I asked Santa’s helper whether I could snap a few of my own pictures because we always have. Sure, the girl said. Did I want to buy any? Um, no, not really.

So while my kids chatted with Santa, I vied for position with some other lady to get snapshots of them. There wasn’t a lot of time to spare, and this lady and her camera kept getting in my space. Angling for a better view, I was about to nudge her out of the way, those being my offspring after all, and I thought, “Why is she shooting pictures of my kids?”

She leaned toward me, beaming, and whispered between her own shots, “That’s my son.” I guess moms are proud of their kids no matter the age or what they do, and that includes being mall Santa. At least she didn’t have to pay either.santapic

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Filed under Can't Get a Break, Everyday Life

The Holiday Card

Come hell or high water this year, I was getting a picture for our holiday cards. It was going to be good. OK, it was going to be decent. And I had to get it done quickly and with the least amount of tears possible.

In years past, it started out well: The kids suited up in coordinating outfits with hair neatly brushed. I had a host of clever tricks to distract them at the first sign of distress: sighs, groans, questions, slumped poses, sloppy smiles. I could manage.

If only the kids could pose as patiently as this guy.

Lately, the taking of the holiday card photo has been surrounded by high drama. Mention getting dressed for the picture and tears flow. Hair brushing is done at a quick trot. Before anyone has struck a pose, the mood is ruined. I admit it. I use bribes, lots of bribes. The kids have caught on. They do not like the holiday picture.

The kids used to sit patiently as I snapped pictures of them on the porch or in front of the holly bush.

A few years ago, things went terribly wrong. It was like choreographing the stooges. One kid smiled, the other collapsed the moment I clicked. My daughter kept making funny faces, closing her eyes. When she smiled, my son looked dazed. I knew I had a short window of time. My son now despised having his picture taken. I ended up with a series of blooper-style photos, and only one decent picture.

Last year, the kids were in tears before I took two shots. I mentioned the words “holiday card” and they lost it, knowing they were in for an hourlong modeling session.

I had already made one attempt at the picture this year at a festival. I made the mistake of saying, “Let me get your picture for our card.” My son smiled and my daughter quietly boohooed. I urged her to get over it so I could quickly snap a picture. It didn’t go so well. My son kneed my daughter for not cooperating. That saga ended in a family meltdown. Over a photo.

This week with time ticking away, I knew I had to get that photo. After school in a slow drizzle, I took the kids outside in their dingy, mismatched school clothes, stuck hats on their heads to cover unbrushed hair, and told them to sit on the fence. If I made the photo black-and-white, everything would look great. Maybe.

“If you’ll just cooperate and smile, it will be quick,” I reasoned with them.

They asked for a gumdrop afterward. “If you don’t whine or fuss through this,” I explained.

Game on.

I clicked away, urging them closer. My daughter smiled beautifully. My son gave a few smiles but mostly looked like a limp fish. After six shots, he started to get antsy. “Let me just get a good one for the card,” I said.

“This is for the holiday card?” he whined.

Great. I blew it. Things began to unravel. He wouldn’t smile. “The fence is hurting my butt,” he complained.

Then he tore off his hat and scarf and threw them to the ground. That’s OK. I can work with that. I would keep snapping. But he screamed, grabbed his mouth, and ran. He had bumped his lip on the fence. Game over.

When he came in, he still wanted his gumdrop. “Did you fuss or whine while we were out there?”

“No, not during the pictures,” he said.

“I meant during the whole process,” I said.

“Oh.”

Maybe I should have been more clear.

The pictures? Thankfully, I have something to work with. And in black-and-white, everything does match.

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A Boy and a Camera

One thing my family can agree on is animals. Watching them, learning about them, it’s something we all get in on. But my son can read a book about animals, absorb it, and relay the facts to you repeatedly. Often more times than you want to hear them. He constantly begs us for sometimes bizarre pets: a huge saltwater aquarium for his room, lizards of all sorts, alpacas, sheep, horses.

When he learns about an animal, his first question is always, “Can you have it as a pet?” My frequent response is, “If you live on a farm.” When he grows up, he plans to live on a farm and have all of these animals, but he’ll need my help of course. Well, he is welcome to do that but I’m no farmhand.

In your face. Taken by my son, 8.

This weekend we went to a nearby science center. My kids love to visit the animals and have been bringing the camera on recent visits. Soon I fear we will have more pictures of these animals than we do of the kids.

The kids fought over the camera, each having to get a shot of each animal. I’ve been through this more than once now. But I see something there, a talent that my son doesn’t yet feel. He is actually pretty good at this photography thing. I try to give him a few pointers without interfering too much, you know, that nagging thing moms do. Animals are like kids and you have to be patient, I told him several months ago. Wait for the shot. Zoom in. Hold still.

And this weekend he did. I think he’s a natural.

So many times, for other things, I have to constantly remind him. But not about this. He takes the camera, seeks out a subject, frames it, shoots. Unfortunately, past subjects have included my rear end in a pool with plans of making a poster-size print for his wall. And other than that one, some of his pictures are pretty darn good.

My daughter’s unsteady hand captures shaky, fuzzy images. She’s only six. It’s hard to push the button, hold the camera, and get the shot before the animal darts away in a playful frenzy. Maybe she’ll get there too.

These guys are huge and my son loves them. We say hello to them at every visit.

Even sometimes now I don’t get close enough to my subject. My images sit too far off and framed by too much space.

But my son seems to know how to do it with not a lot of guidance. It’s neat to see something develop in your kids right before your eyes. To me, his pictures are worth more than words.

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