I always hated with a burning fury having my picture taken. My earliest memory is peeing on the attending nurse who had the gall to snap a photo of me minutes after I was born, violently thrust into a bizarre world in which not one moment matters if it is not captured on film, reproduced, and put in a tacky frame on someone’s living room wall or office desk.
Isn’t it appalling that the very people we love and trust the most find it necessary to record our most private moments for public consumption? For example, I believe weddings should be sacred and intimate, not occasions for garish photo spreads that cost approximately as much as a new Lincoln Continental. When my wife and I were married years ago at the Haywood County Detention Center by whomever had the afternoon shift — you may not find this setting to be as romantic and quaint as we did — we were forced to pose out front in a garden of brick and concrete for a series of photos to commemorate our special day. The only reason that one or more of these do not currently adorn our living room wall is that my wife’s eyes were shut in each picture. The look on my face could best be described as “resigned,” not to the marriage itself but to the ridiculous ritual of taking wedding pictures under absolutely any circumstances.
During my childhood, I was the Houdini of photo shoots. Family reunions, birthday parties, picnics, holiday gatherings, recitals, dances, and sporting events of all kinds. I was there. And yet, there is virtually no historical record of it. In photograph after photograph, I am nowhere to be seen.
Friends circled around a chocolate cake, candles aflame and Michael just about to blow them out, saved for posterity forever and ever. (But I am under the table tying my shoes.)
My cousin, preparing to serve a volleyball in a hotly contested front yard battle, relatives poised and wide-eyed on the other side of the net waiting to receive, with one teammate conspicuously missing. (I am out of the frame, drinking water from a garden hose.)
Whenever a camera appeared on any scene, as cameras so often do, I almost always managed to escape, to wriggle out of my strait jacket just in the nick of time to avoid capture. I might have been there, but there is no proof of it.
On those rare occasions when there simply was no escape, such as the much dreaded and deeply loathed annual school picture day, I muddled through with a series of tight, fake smiles, the kind you force when a state patrolman is handing you a speeding ticket and telling you to have a “great day!”
However, in one of those photos — I believe it was sixth or seventh grade — I was, for whatever reason, unable to disguise my contempt for the process any longer. In that photograph, I look as if my right big toe is being chewed by a weasel. Among the neat rows of my classmates in the school yearbook, there are faces with easy, practiced smiles, other faces bearing vague expressions of boredom, a few faces with goofy grins, and then the face of one kid who looks like he is being electrocuted.
When she was especially frustrated with me about one thing or another, my mother used to say that one day I would pay for all of my shenanigans when I had kids of my own. I chuckled at the very idea, and then returned with no further reflection to my miscreant ways.
I never really thought of my mother as a prophet until a few days ago, when two large white envelopes containing the annual school photos of our daughter and son appeared in the mailbox.
The photographs of my daughter are typically wonderful, stunning if you must know. Like her mother, she always looks great in any picture she is in. Her smile might best be described as “luminous.”
Then I opened my son’s school photos for this year. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but there really are no words for this year’s picture of him. For reasons we may never completely understand, he chose to pose as if he had been underwater for three minutes holding his breath. He looked like a cross between a blowfish and prize-winning tomato at the county fair, his eyes and cheeks bulging as if they might all burst at once with just one more ounce of pressure, one more second of holding it all in.
I would not say that my mother is gratified that the vision of her son’s future that she had decades ago has come to pass. How can she, since she will soon become the proud recipient of this charming photo of her grandson?
And I would not say that my son is just like me. I hated being photographed. He loves being photographed, as long as the photograph captures him in the most absurd, unattractive pose that he can conjure up in the moment. He simply cannot or will not pose naturally. In one photograph, he looks like a hyena who just consumed a bowl of methamphetamine. In another, he looks like he has been constipated for about six weeks.
When he gets a little older and tries explaining these photographs to his fiancé, he may wish he had been a little more like dad. But, he was there, and we can prove it. Can we ever.