When you are the person who takes the pictures, who takes pictures of you?
Some of us are just more comfortable behind the camera. I know I am. I like watching, and noticing, and capturing the fleeting moments. I love it when I can create a portrait of someone that makes them feel good. It’s especially satisfying when I can do that for the women I know — my friends and my sisters who are usually the picture-takers in their families. Because if nobody ever takes a thoughtful portrait of you, you’re left with those candid shots that catch you mid-conversation, with your eyes all funny and your mouth open. I have lots of those.
Recently I was asked to provide a photograph of myself. I was forced to acknowledge that I didn’t have anything to offer that didn’t have a Christmas tree in it. It was time to do something about that.
So my friend Karen, her son Zack, and I went to the park. Zack is a senior at Albany High School who is very interested in photography. He has taken a class at the high school, he took my Learning to See class at the Community Center, and he is becoming the photographer for his family. I handed him my camera and for the next hour or so we played. That was key. Karen and Zack helped me relax and not take the process too seriously. We tried different backgrounds and different poses, and employed my favorite Important Portrait Philosophy: “Hey. It might look stupid, but it might not!”
And Zack got this:
I have to tell you, I’m thrilled with this image. That’s how I think I look. (Better, actually.) It’s a genuine smile and there is life in my eyes. Zack, you make me feel that I am sometimes beautiful, and I’m surprised at what a powerfully positive feeling that is. I’m fine with my gray hair and I actually like the lines around my eyes. I’m grateful for every one of my 57 years. But it all looks softer and kinder when the happy comes through.
So, is it vanity? I suppose. But it’s more too. This is a picture I want my someday grandchildren to see. I hope it will help them know who I was.
So, Gentle Reader, if you are the photographer in your family I urge you to take a deep breath, relinquish control, and step in front of the camera. It isn’t painful and it can actually be fun. And when you get the image that thrills you, print it and frame it. Let it cheer you on those inevitable bad days, and pass it on so future generations can know who you were.
Leave a trace.
(Thanks again, Zack. You don’t even know.)