Family Matters

Photo Studio

You are 5 years old and your grandmother cannot make it to Thanksgiving dinner this year.

Instead, she wants a photo of the entire family to be sent. You no longer remember whose idea it was, but you know that you were eventually dressed up as a roasted turkey, with the rest of the family pretending to pray around you. 

Holiday fail: at this tender age, you have already created a photographic monster that will stalk you for the rest of your life. Thanks Facebook. Thanks, Granny.

Everybody has been tagged at least once in a childhood portrait of shame. Maybe you dressed as Pocahontas for the school play. Or were stuffed into a too-tight sailor suit for church. If your grandmother did show up for Christmas, the outfits were likely even worse: color-coordinated short sets for you and your brother. An XXL teddy bear pullover knitted with that much love.

We’ve all been there. Like gravity, unemployed cousins nostalgic for the good old days are a law of nature. Some devote days to sifting through the past for humiliating treasures, publishing online “memorials” to their families without a thought for how their albums affect your public image or fragile self-esteem. The most nostalgic and broke family members sell family albums and your dignity to “vintage stores” in Brooklyn for a few coins.

The embarrassment isn’t confined to childhood photos. Even now, adult children are often forced to indulge their parents’ imagination when it comes to family photos. Themes range from a simple dress code to hallucinatory choreographies: the whole family in pink on a purple background, family members riding a tree like a pony, or costumed as characters from Avatar.

The truth is that family events are incompatible with photographic perfection. After all, you don’t choose your relatives based on photogeneity. We don’t need to go into the details of the wall-eyed uncle, children with sticky fingers, snoring grandmothers, Dad’s nose-hairs. It’s hard enough to get everyone in the picture, and then to find space at the last minute for the pets, or the guns, or for the momentarily forgotten, now screaming, bulging, red-faced baby. Just take the picture, already. Ultimately, shared imperfection is the true measure of whether you’re family or not.


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