“Oh, don’t bring that out,” my wife said. This was halfway through our idyllic holiday weekend. Family had gathered from near and far with no tearful recriminations, fistfuls of hair or significant blood loss. I brought out our camera to record the event. This made me a little unpopular. (“Oh, why are you doing that?” “I don’t want to pose for pictures.” “Can you wait till I’m out of the bathroom?”)
“Oh, don’t bring that out,” my wife said.
This was halfway through our idyllic holiday weekend. Family had gathered from near and far with no tearful recriminations, fistfuls of hair or significant blood loss. I brought out our camera to record the event. This made me a little unpopular. (“Oh, why are you doing that?” “I don’t want to pose for pictures.” “Can you wait till I’m out of the bathroom?”)
But man is a hunter by nature. Our natural predators have withdrawn to “Animal Planet,” and our natural prey is shrink-wrapped and sold by Oscar Mayer. So now, we hunt and capture family moments; preserving them in forced poses, half-lidded DMV stares or haunting “Cujo” eyes.
This is usually a thankless task. As our recent political debates have shown, there’s nothing like a pointed camera to bring out the stilted lummox in people. Folks who are usually genuine and engaging will stiffen up like they’re prepping for a hernia check. And it’s very hard to get Ansel Adams quality when your subjects are cussing you out through frozen Pat Robertson smiles.
I am not the best photographer. My first camping trip produced a four-roll essay titled “My Thumb at Yellowstone.” But digital photography makes artists of us all. Free from 12- or 24-exposure limits, I snap away rapid-fire, on the theory that even a blind squirrel finds a nut now and then.
Family photographs fall to Dad because Mom is usually hip-deep in holiday choreography: basting turkeys, offering hors d’oeuvres or getting folks to stop screaming: “You never loved me!”
Female relatives will tell you: “Oh, don’t take my picture. I don’t look good right now.” Ignore them. The cruel truth is that time does horrible things to us all, and nobody’s going to look any better than they do right now. (Note: Don’t actually SAY this, or you’ll be shooting morbid silences.) Your reward will come years down the road, when you find your spouse poring nostalgically over a scrapbook of photos she begged you not to take. Or on prom night, when the threat of hidden baby pictures makes your daughter keep her curfew. Or in your dotage, when your adult child pipes up with a bit of revisionist history, like: “I was NOT an ugly kid!”
One style note: Dads, remember to include yourself in some of those pictures. Many of us, in our struggle to chronicle vacations and red-letter days, leave ourselves on the wrong side of the lens. My own parents, who have traveled far and done much together, appear in the same photo about as much as Clark Kent and Superman. Use those timers, men! Then run and thrash and elbow your way into that tableau. You’ll be part of the family record, and no one looks more genuine than a loved one struggling to smile through a bloody nose.