When you start out as a family, a couple of grown-ups and maybe a baby, the concept of the “family portrait” is a pretty tame thing. You say, “Ready? SMILE!” and everybody does. They look right at the camera and smile. And you? You smile too, thinking this is reality. It’s not for years that the truth sets in. Two years if that baby in the first picture was your first. It all goes downhill from there.
Every year I have done a family portrait to send out with the Christmas cards, usually shot in autumn. A couple of years ago I made 8x10s of all those Christmas shots so I could hang them on the wall, a sort of wall-hung flip-book of our lives. You start at one end and see the wedding kiss, you come to the other end and see the wedding of our oldest daughter. That’s when I ran out of wall.
I have learned. Oh, I have learned what a – quest – it is, the good shot—the one in which every person’s face is visible and no one is doing something embarrassing. It can be done. But it helps if there are credible threats involved, or cardboard stand-up substitutes for the actual children. Then the kids move away, which makes things infinitely worse; after that, you have to wait until they all happen to drop into town at the same time, and then try to coordinate everybody’s schedules, or (see the above point about cardboard standups).
Then the grandkids come along.
Have you ever tried to put puppies in a box and keep them there?
It was in September this year that I began to try to get this year’s shot. In the backyard, just before the family party in honor of M’s incipient nuptials. The light was dimming and green (what with all the leaves) but that was only the beginning of my problems. What follows is a photo essay, empirical defense of my point.
You start with the children. At this point, they are all – at least ostensibly – adults. And beautiful, if I do say so myself.
Then add one grandkid, and what happens to the focus?
And one is never enough.
Well, another two.
Then Lorri shows up. (Never forget; one kid always leads to another.) How many of these people are looking at the camera? No really. Five adults three children. TWO people, looking at the camera. That’s twenty five percent, paying attention. At least they’re all nicely bunched up.
WHERE DID THIS LONG CHILD COME FROM? And look what happens to the back row. What’s more, none of the children are with the proper parents. Okay, Sand is in his mother’s lap – but honestly, does she look like a proper parent?
Is anybody listening to me? HELLO? Lens pointing at you guys. What, there aren’t enough of you yet?
Okay – add the bride. And so much for the nice bunching. Like somebody just hit them with a cue ball. I think they’re all rearranging themselves into family groups, but I can’t be sure. Obviously, Max isn’t sure either. He is, by the way, the ONLY ONE looking at the camera.
Can M actually hold two girls in his lap at one time? And can the chair hold ALL of them?
Finally. Smashing. Six adults. Four children. I am using my motorized setting so that, in the unlikely event that every person might be looking into the camera at the same time, I’ll catch it. This is NOT that frame. I’m showing you this frame because everybody’s face is at least visible. Mostly. Not sure what Cam is doing. But Murph is smiling like a sane person, and that’s something.
Something that doesn’t last long.
Now, what? Chaz – WHAT? Where did Scooter go? Ginna – oh, never mind.
M’s energy is leaking out. Ginna is still – I don’t know. The back row is deteriorating. Max is steady. Sand and Laura are starting up a conversation.
Okay, lost the kids on the back row entirely. Cam – not one flipping smile yet. The conversation between Sand and Laura is getting intense.
Max is steady. You’re a rock, Max. But Andy has gone feral. I guess Laura thinks Sand was finished with what he had to say. Chaz? Chaz? Could you look at ME?
Re-shuffle. Bring the back row out in front where (at least in theory) they can’t get away with so much.
Oh, yeah – well so much for that. And now the new back row is out of control.
And we’ve lost Sand entirely. We never had Andy, not from the beginning. Can anybody say, “Cheese”?
No, I guess not.
Now, if you have just a lot of time on your hands, it’s kinda fun to go back to the top and scroll down quickly watching just one person or group of people. And when you’re all finished with that, you’ll know what I’m saying here. Yeah. You’ll know.