I consider myself photogenic in a fairly specific way. If I am captured on film doing something I enjoy, while I am actively enjoying it and am in no way aware that the camera is on me? I am pretty nice to look at. (Unless I am singing at karaoke and then I look batshit insane. Just like you do.) But any other time, it’s hit and miss. I ham it up if I know the camera is there. I have a collection of shit-eating grins I haul out for pictures. I am not very good at smiling with my eyes. My angles are kind of funny; my mouth is crooked so if you photograph me in repose I have Mean Mouth, my nose is getting bigger by the day and my hair is often unruly. Unruly like an LA riot.
To sum up: I am a creature who looks best when animated. If I were on a reality show about models, (and that is the biggest, most scornful IF you will see all day, my friends) the host would say, “In PERSON I get a model, but her film is TERRIBLE.”
Fresco has inherited this characteristic. In person, he is freaky cute. On film he looks like an angry old man. Partly this is the curse of the camera, so attractive to him that he must concentrate on catching it and eating it and cannot unfurrow his brow for one second to look adorable. But mostly I think it is just the way we are in our family. I should say, our family excluding SA and Trombone because I think they generally photograph quite well.
(The caveat here is that I take the most pictures of my kids and I am not a professional and I am using a simple point & click camera. With a real photographer, and I know there are lots of you out there, Fresco might be Canada’s cutest baby but no, actually, I think he’s just got lots of Personality and needs to be seen up close and personal to be believed. Don’t forget your earplugs, though.)
When Trombone was 3 months old we went to Sears for our first family portrait. I think we did it because we were at the mall and needed something to do and Christmas was coming. It turned out well – Trombone was young and easily amused and grinned it up nicely for the camera. Last year we sent Trombone on his own because we had to work but we wanted photos for our Christmas cards. He happened to be coming down with a really bad flu that day so the photos are kind of sad looking. There was one where he was actually crying but trying to smile through the tears. Very Liza Minelli.
This year we went with both boys and got one portrait of all of us and then a bunch of just the boys because they are way better looking than us. I think it is because they are getting full nights of sleep and we are not. Oh and because they don’t have to deal with themselves all day.
When the photographer offered us her favourite, most popular background we said sure, until she rolled it down and it was this crazy Donald Trump / Thomas Kinkade Christmas tree, all gold and green and lights and freaky ornaments – okay it doesn’t sound that weird but go to that Thomas Kinkade link (incidentally, holy shit I had no idea there was so MUCH Thomas Kinkade crap out there!) and you will see what I mean except imagine it 7 feet tall and behind you – I would bet money that in 5 more years there will be a Make-Your-Own-Blinky-Light-Christmas-Portrait with this tree in it. We shook our heads, well actually, I was all “Oh hell yes!” but SA was more, “Oh hell no!” so we went with a nice calm snowdrift background. And then the poor photographer tried to get what she would call “good” pictures of us. Classic family poses.
See, I think of the Sears Portrait (or department store portrait of your choice) as High Cheese and that is the point for me. I want us to look like us, in front of an amusing backdrop, in poses we don’t normally strike. I am muzzy on this, like the rest of my memories but way back in 199something, Sarah won a free portrait from The Bay and it was 11 x 16, mounted, and we went in the two of us and chose a painter’s dropsheet background and pulled out cans of fake paint and paint brushes from the prop box and insisted on posing with them. THAT picture will be in the Department Store Portrait Hall of Fame, right at the front door.
But the photographers who work in the studios, they have to take it seriously. Because people do, they come in with their 2 day old infants dressed in Christmas Finery and then spend half an hour blowing on them to keep them awake to capture the moment. In all seriousness. I saw it happen while I was waiting to pick up our pictures the other day.
Which is cool. I’m not dissing your baby or her pictures. It’s just not why I go to the Sears portrait studio. I do it for fun.
Now Trombone is great. He follows directions, knows how to say “STINKY” on cue to make a cute smile, yes, has a home-done haircut but whatever. He’s cute. SA and I, well, we know no one is really looking at us anyway and we are 36 and 34 respectively so we can manage to smile for 10 minutes straight and still attempt to wrangle our children. But Fresco, king of the flirts, smiliest baby of all, just stared at this photographer like she was The Satan. Would not smile. Would not laugh. Would not look at the dangly birdy. Just. Kept. Staring. Who are you and why are you shaking your HOLY CLEAVAGE! in my face?
Many poses followed. We got some we liked. Then the photographer said, OK now let’s do my favourite shot. She brings back the crazy Christmas backdrop, gets a fake glass of milk from the prop box, hands it to Trombone. She gets a fake plastic plate with chocolate chip cookies glued to it, hands it to Fresco. She gets an elbow-length Santa Claus glove, hands it to SA, tells him to put it on. SA is out of the shot but his Santa hand is in it, reaching for the cookies and milk. And I guess the kids are supposed to look at him and be all, whee it’s daddy! but on film it will look like, whee it’s Santa! I don’t know. Mr. Jay was not there to speak to the artistic vision.
First, Fresco shoves the plate in his mouth. He’s teething, you see. Then Trombone has a look at the plate and manages to pry one of the glued-on cookies off. Fresco reaches for that, too. The photographer is peeing her pants laughing because I guess she’s never photographed a baby that puts things in his mouth before; in other words it must have been her first day. We got a few shots and then put her out of her misery and left.
Even though the Sears Portrait studio will never put any of our shots on their wall for other customers to look at, to me, ours are perfect family portraits. I love them. When I look at them on my Portrait Wall (oh I am so serious) in 5 or 50 years, I will remember what everyone was like, how we all felt, that poor photographer yelping, “HEY BABY LOOK AT ME BABY!” the baby giving her his best Withering Stare and Trombone silently wishing he was back in the waiting area playing with the talking Dora the Explorer Kitchen.
Our photo session captured so many moments that accurately represent my offbeat, super animated, decidedly not picture-perfect family. And so, department store portrait studios, you will always have my heart and my money.
(This is the one where Santa was supposed to be taking the plate of cookies away. To the photographer’s surprise, we ordered two 5X7s.)