A couple of weeks ago I posted to my personal Facebook page a series of photos of my son, Ben, that were taken at a dinosaur expo in Greenville. My dad, after scrolling through the photos, called me later that night and asked me to print off a couple of his favorites and send them to him.
We chatted for close to an hour, about which dinosaurs Ben liked the best, whether some of the bigger exhibits had frightened him and how my husband, Jon, managed to escape from the gift shop without taking out a second mortgage on our house.
“It looks like Ben really had fun and Jon seems to have had a good time too,” he said before pausing. “Why didn’t you go?”
I laughed at the time. Who did he think had been holding the camera? Of course I was there.
Later that night, our conversation still nagged at me so I decided to look through the photos again. He was right, I wasn’t in any of them. In fact, scrolling through the (many) files of family pictures on my computer only served to reaffirm my dad’s misconception. In almost every situation I’m there, but not there.
I remember each instance clearly: The waterfall hike down Issaqueena, our trip to the zoo, the train festival in Central, the dinosaurs in Greenville, that awesome day at the park, playing with bubbles in the back-yard — I was there for all those adventures — but there’s no evidence of it.
Saddened, I realized they weren’t really “family” photos at all because there was always one person missing from the frame: Me.
Looking back on my own childhood photo albums I can see where the trend started. I have tons of pictures of me and my dad, me and my brothers, me and my dog … and two (two!) of me and my mom.
Was she there for all those birthdays and Halloweens and first days of school? Yeah. She was there — just like I am now — holding the camera.
The pictures that I do have of me and my kids are all (without exception) selfies taken with my phone. And guys, it’s not a great phone … There’s not a single one where all three of us are smiling at the same time, let alone one with us smiling and entirely in frame.
Despite my thousands of pictures (remember, photographer) I have exactly one photograph of all of us together. One shot with me, Jon, and both boys that was taken by a friend of mine at my youngest son Sam’s first birthday party. And guess what? It’s out of focus.
Of course an easy remedy for this situation would be to simply pack the kids up and head on over to the nearest Olan Mills (is that still a thing?). But the truth is I dislike posed portraits.
I’m sorry, but nobody ever naturally stands next to a white picket fence or sits on a hay bale with their hands perfectly folded and their heads tilted just right. It’s not real. The smiles are forced — there’s no laughter captured, no sparkle in the eyes — the moment isn’t genuine. Everything about a studio portrait screams “fake” and it’s not what I want.
What most people don’t realize is it’s the imperfections in a photograph that make it stand out: the ice cream on your kid’s chin, the leaf caught in your hair. The best shots show our flaws, not hide them. They capture real moments in life, not perfect ones — because life isn’t perfect.
My favorite picture of my grandmother is a great example: She’s barefoot and swinging in a hammock, glass of wine in hand and laughing her head off. It’s a beautiful photograph — shot on the fly by one of my aunts or cousins — and shows a rare glimpse into the silly side of my normally proper and somewhat conservative Grandma.
But had she any advance warning of the camera’s presence — it would have been a very different shot (and not nearly as good).
Like my mom and grandma, I am not overly fond of having my picture taken. But as I look around at the framed photos on my walls, my absence from them is bothering me. I don’t want my kids to look back through photo albums (like I did) and struggle to find shots of us all together at family gatherings.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Don’t forget to add your chapter to the story.
Kasie Strickland is a staff writer for The Easley Progress and The Pickens Sentinel and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Views expressed in this column are those of the writer only and do not represent the newspaper’s opinion.