Families of all cultures and castings (including my own) tend to hire professional photographers to capture them in traditional garb in traditional poses with traditional perspectives. But how often do we, in real life, wear matching outfits, stand next to each other, smile, and look in one unilateral direction? Even the most creative of these sorts of family portraits (jumping, for example, or even a full-blown photo shoot with props) lack the true perspective of what life is really like for that family. And although a perfectly-arranged, stand-still picture fits neatly onto a ready-to-mail Christmas card, the portrait is clearly superficial.
When I look back at these portraits, portraits of myself with family and/or friends, taken with fancy-trancy equipment, I try to remember what it was like for me to smile at that moment: what I was thinking, what I was hiding, what I was hoping for. And not just my socioemotional state but what about what I was doing? Just before or just after, or what I've been internalizing, undertaking, caring for or caring about. Does this portrait capture any of that? Then again, world-renowned photographer Diane Arbus once said, "A picture is a secret about a secret, the more it tells you the less you know." In the end, I'm not sure what ends up communicated to the viewer, and whether twenty years from now my own memory will be reignited, or successfully suspended and superseded by this gleaming, one-dimensional portrait of our family.
What are we actually glorifying in these portraits? Our principles, or our style? Our convictions, or our looks? Maybe unity, but I remember years back when I saw one of the most beautiful photo shoots of my life, only to find out months later that unsavory affairs were lurking below the surface (with the marriage ending in a tragic and sudden divorce). How do we successfully capture authenticity when we might be running away from it ourselves? I don’t think we can. But I believe there is a way to capture authenticity that separates the wheat from the chaff.
What if, instead, our photo shoots were more "a day in the life"-like. What if they represented our character more than just our personality, our reality more than our socially-projected self-images? It wouldn't be easy. It's hard to imagine what we do everyday to be fascinating to others and even to ourselves. (Did I just write that? Am I living under a Bookface rock??). Still, we would hardly pay a professional photog to document our daily grind. And even less likely to put it up on our (real) walls for others to see. But what if we did? It's a risk, you respond, What if all the pictures turn out insipid and flat? Clearly, nothing is flatter than a pocket-full-of-poses photo shoot. And I think this Zuckerbergism applies here: "The riskiest thing to take is to take no risks."
So what if our photo shoots were more candid? What if they professionally captured us passionately engaged in the causes of our lives, teaching our children principles like compassion, and living happily with frugality, tranquility, spontaneity? What if, a half-century from now, when our children's children ask us what it was like to live the life we've lived, we could show them stunning portraits of us doing what we were doing, in places that we actually did them, with people we actually saw everyday? Now wouldn't that be real?