A Family Portrait, A Snapshot of an (Unhappy) Time
Family portraits creep me out. I’ve never been a fan, even in the 70s, when my mom gathered us all up and carted us off to K-Mart for the dreaded hours of primping and preening that eventually led to a snapshot of our perfect family. A moment frozen in time with perfectly coiffed hair and the latest velour shirts (with wide lapels of course) in nutty browns and earthy tones. Yuck. I want to vomit just thinking of those pictures (sorry mom!). My family will probably be sad to read that last line, but no matter how much I love my family, I can’t stand us posed with a swirly-background of some sort, looking straight at the camera while muttering “cheese” for the amusement (and paycheck) of a photographer.
My mom didn’t force into a lot of family portraits and my family went through the greatest of American pastimes, divorce, allowing us some freedom from the hell that is picture day, so I guess I’m lucky. I know a lot of “kids” who are still taking family portraits with their parents well into their 30s and 40s. Me? No thank you.
My aversion to the family portrait has less to do with my general disdain for posing for photos (as a member of the Bloodhound Gang, I’ve probably posed for thousands) and more to do with the creepiness of a well-faked moment frozen in time. I prefer my photos to be candid…a slice of real life. The posing, the arrangement of family members based on height or age, the photoshopped backgrounds (or the perfect nature walk setting)…all of it just screams phony to me. What’s more, it reeks of something sinister lying underneath.
I have yet to meet anyone with a truly perfect family and I don’t believe I ever will. With that in mind, family portraits become a junior-sleuth activity for me. I look at them and I see the terror, the pain, the failures, and the disappointments. Instead of seeing an idyllic family dressed to the nines with a perfect fall foliage background, I see cheating, scandal, drug problems, and things best left unsaid. I see the lies that the photo is attempting to cover up. The perfection is little more than a shield to keep prying eyes like mine away from the true reality. Yes, maybe your family is perfect, but when I look at your family portrait, I see things that do and don’t exist. It doesn’t matter if I’m right or not, it only matters that these are thoughts I cannot escape.
Some of you (my adult friends) probably think to yourself, “but Matt, you don’t have kids, so you don’t understand,” and you may be right. Without kids, there are a lot of things I’m not sure I understand about you, the breeding-class. I will never pretend to fully comprehend your thinking and how those little bundles of joy (ie, hungry mouths to feed) affect your brainwaves. Somedays, I’m not sure I want to.
No matter how much you try and convince me, I will always be creeped out by your perfect white teeth and matching outfits, your smiles, and your need to stand in a field of bluebonnets (do you not fear fire ants like I do?). Your family portrait will never be me. And on the off chance I do find myself with children, I promise them, right here, long before their birth, that I will not subject them to this soul-sucking torture. Instead, I’ll keep a camera handy and capture random moments – the ones that really count as a visual history of my perfect family.
image courtesy of Fire At Will [Photography]