Friday, December 15, 2006

Documentation, Please!

My family growing up never set foot in an Olin Mills, JC Penney or Sears photo studio. In my childhood pictures, there were no poses, no props. The only nod to formality came once a year when school photos were taken. I had to lobby my mom to actually buy them.

I always sort of felt sleighted by that-- the fact that other kids' parents would go through this strange ritual of primping and propping and buy tons of wallet-sized pics while my parents never carried wallets with those little plastic sleeves, so why go through it all in the first place?

At some point I just figured it was something we didn't do, like the other things we didn't do. We didn't have the ubiquitous green bean casserole at Thanksgiving either and lord knows that was a blessing in disguise. Perhaps these things are just things that other people do, I reasoned-- people who are more normal than we are (and by extension, probably less interesting).

Yes, somehow formal portraiture which can sometimes be cheesy, but sometimes really sweet, became in my mind a declasse event. That shit was for people with ten kids and a single, cave-like staircase to the second floor where the portraits would hang for eons, leaving their marks on the wallpaper discovered when the family home was disassembled when the parents finally kicked it.


I may have one or two stray childhood photos tucked in some box here or there, but the majority of them are stuffed into a never-used writing desk in my mom's home. That's where photographs went. They were never put into books or annotated.

And our poor ancestors... they haven't fared so well either. Their identities are precarious as we rely on my mom's generation to identify them, if it is at all possible anymore. My father thought for sure that my mom still had his childhood photos in a box somewhere until family conferencing made it clear that they were actually in a box in my aunt's attic. Yeah, good luck with that one. After finding out, he seemed relieved. I don't believe there has been any attempt to retrieve them.


Half of my son's relatives live across the ocean. Every couple of months or so we try (try, try!) to remember to send them some pictures via email. The problem with emailed pictures is that they somehow never seem to materialize. They don't end up on the fridge or in a book unless someone goes to pained efforts, straddling the technological divide between JPEG and paper.

And somehow it just doesn't seem satisfying. For them, I think, or for us.

So, in my season of challenges here, I decided to take my son to a portrait studio... a cute one at the mall (Oh lord he repeated after me when I said mall this afternoon- frightening!)

Now don't go worrying here that I've really lost my marbles-- there were no cutesy props, no child riding a prop choo-choo train. My son's hair was tossled and he was his little imperfect self. Which is all that I wanted.

There will be pictures. Just don't expect them wallet-sized.

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