My family would be hard-pressed to find more than a few natural, un-posed pictures of me as a young woman. I was never comfortable in front of the lens and went out of my way to stay clear of people toting cameras on straps hanging around their necks. I always had an excuse for not wanting to be in a picture. My hair was too messy, or short, or long. I was too fat or bloated; my face – too pimply or in need of make-up. I was always … “too.” When I did get captured in a group snapshot, I was the one with one eye shut and mouth open wide.
I decided there was only one way to control my less than perfect images – I became one of those people with a 35mm in hand, snapping pictures left and right. I wasn’t good at it; it was simply the answer to a problem. The photographer was never in the pictures.
All these years later, my grandchildren flip through albums, laughing with disbelief at their parents’ childhood pictures. My four-year-old granddaughter pauses and points to a man in a photo with a full head of dark brown hair, sporting a full mustache, and wearing white socks that stop two inches short of his knees.
“Who’s that?” she asks. When I tell her it’s her Pappy (grandfather), she dubiously examines the figure holding her, then, six-year-old father’s hand and says, “What happened to him?”
After I stop laughing, she asks, “Where are you, Grandma?”
“Taking the picture,” I replied regretfully.
Today, it’s easy to snap perfect images with cell phone cameras, and the quality of the photographs is just as good, if not better than those taken with the old boxes with multi screw-on lenses. My grown children have thousands of pictures saved for posterity somewhere in that infamous cloud. There’s no need to miss a single event or moment, and there’s no wait to share it.
And selfies, alone or with a group, can be deleted and retaken until there are no shut eyes or unwanted bat-winged arms stretched in the air. My children’s generation takes this incredible innovation for granted. Only those of us who have had to wait an entire week to get back disappointing photos from the mall Fotomat can say: “Cell phone photos are ‘the best thing since sliced bread’” and understand it.
Of course, we are still at the mercy of the picture taker. We don’t always have a say about the viability of an image. I have been in the candid group shot – the one that shows a great time being had by all – that is immediately posted on Facebook. The photo is great: everyone’s eyes are open, and grins are wide, and I am the one with a dark blotch of something stuck between my teeth. Some things never change.
Fortunately, there are videos and a multitude of advice on the internet that will let us in on the secrets of taking our best selfie. To score a winner every time, one must practice poses in the mirror, check out all angles, and find one’s best side. Try duck lips, funny faces, happy grins, and pensive pouts, they say. Look for optimum light, hold your head at an angle, slant the camera and hold it high, arm fully extended. Better yet, buy a cell phone stick. Be sure to take hundreds of pictures to figure all of this out.
Unfortunately, this advice is not for me.
I want to be one of those beautiful spur-of-the-moment people in the photo that my great-grandchild will ask about in awe, but I realize it is not my reality. Even though I’ve added pesky wrinkles and curly grey hairs that spike through my dyed hair to my “too” list, I refuse to be the “ghosted” grandmother.
I’m coming to terms with being the quirky one in the bunch. I’ve accepted that my ever-expanding list of “imperfections,” magnified in the sharp eye of the close-up lens is, actually, an interesting evolution of character. It’s a good thing. Some people are naturally photogenic; I am not. But, I have other attributes. I can make interesting things out of toilet tissue rolls, glue, and paint, I let my husband win at card games, and I make the best chocolate chip cookies. (You can tell the latter by the muffin tops sitting on my waistline, exposed in my pictures for all to see.)
My progeny will have to settle for the funny-looking lady with her tongue sticking out and freckles that might match their own. Maybe, they will find my pictures endearing; maybe, my foibles are not as weird as wearing white socks pulled up within two inches of my knees.
So, go ahead, say “cheese.” I’m in.