Now that the holidays are well over, I think it’s appropriate to discuss the role of the family photographer, which is about as unappreciated a job as there is. Year after year, occasion after occasion, there is nothing but complaining as the (self- appointed) family archivist attempts to herd the surly assemblage into some kind of order and snap a few pics for posterity.
Does anyone say thank you? I think not. Years later, of course, everyone loves looking at those pictures, pointing out hair and clothing styles, but more often than not, focusing on what’s in the background. Remember that sofa we got from Goodwill? Oh, look, there’s that Chevy Vega that rusted through in two years. Wow, the trees were so much smaller. Did that guy you were dating then ever make parole? The family photographer basks in a few rare moments of adulation, which will evaporate in a nanosecond as soon as a camera appears. Photography is the ultimate delayed gratification hobby. Total abuse in real time.
I think one of the reasons I became such a devoted documenter of my family is that my own parents took so few photos of me. I’m trying not to take this personally.
Partly, it was the era: at the time, color photos were a rarity and most people only had crummy black-and-white Brownie cameras that took abysmal pictures.
I would also have to say that as much as I loved my parents, they were inept camera people. Virtually all our family photos are blurry black-and-whites taken from waaayyy too far away or totally off center. There’s lots of sky. Mom, dad, that thing called a viewfinder? That’s why they call it that.
Like many people who feel they were deprived of something in their formative years, I may have overcompensated with my own kids. When my younger son and then-fiancée wanted to do a slide show for their wedding, I hauled some 40 albums out to the dining room table. I swear my daughter-in-law said under her breath, “I hope this isn’t hereditary.”
Last year I put together a 400-slide show of Olof and me to mark a milestone birthday. Afterward, there were wonderful toasts made – Henry gave a four-hanky tribute to both of us. I gave a toast to Olof, commenting on how different this evening would have been had Olof not come into our lives. Both kids simultaneously chimed, “200 less slides?”
I suppose if everyone who knows you well tells you have a problem, you should probably pay attention. My first husband accused me of choosing to photograph life to the exclusion of living it. My second husband, Olof, mid-way through our two- year work assignment
in Europe several years ago, maintained that the vows in his third marriage would include capping his bride to 25 digital images per day, pro rata, as long as they both shall live. Even my younger son refused to allow me to have a camera in my hands on his wedding day. I kept nudging the photographer: “You’ll really want to get a shot of that,” I said. My first grandson referred to me as “Grammy Camera.”
Maybe it’s just as well my parents never took many pictures. I guard that tiny handful of pathetic pics carefully in one small thin album. But I am leaving my kids with (now) 45 photo albums and some 6,000 digital images, never mind hundreds of slides. Every time they walk into my bedroom and see that six-foot bookcase, you can see the sweat break out on their brows. Yeah, you can put photos on CDs, but honestly, you’d never look at them.
Photos are meant to be shared in albums over a cup of cocoa, or depending on your haircut in that era, several bottles of wine. Besides, in 10 years no one will be able to read the current CDs. So maybe CDs ARE the ultimate solution: self-expiring photo storage.
At this point, I’ve handed over the mantle of family photography to the kids, although I still take a few snaps of the grandtots when they visit. It’s sort of like my own methadone program. I’ve sorted through the slides and picked the ones I want to keep but even I am not sure what to do with all those photos. I really don’t want to burden the kids after my demise. Fortunately, neither of them is as pathologically sentimental as I am and are maybe just not wanting to utter the word “dumpster” while I’m still breathing. Better yet, they could simply sell the house “as is.”—
Look for La Jolla resident Inga’s lighthearted looks at life inLa Jolla Light