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The Lost Art of the Bad Family Photo

December 16, 2013

family photos 7I love family photos. Or any kind of personal Kodak moment – the bonz-ai! college party, the first dance, the accidental nudie.

And I don’t just love my family photos. I love yours, too. I love my neighbor’s from down the street, I love my worst enemy’s family photos – especially if I get my hands on them.

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Family photographs are the first thing I look for when I’m invited into someone’s home. Books are second, but that’s another story.

I can tell – usually within a few minutes of looking around – if this is a second family, for instance. One that was torn apart by divorce and then painstakingly recreated. If it’s a close family. If I want these people in my life as more than acquaintances.

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It’s the voyeur in me, you could say – certainly. But it’s not a National Enquirer style prurient voyeurism – the bad beach body kind.

To me, personal photographs are as much a window into someone’s soul as are their eyes. And there’s no better place to get a look at the snapshots of a human being’s life than in their own home. The iPhone montage just doesn’t do it for me. Nor does the Facebook collection.

I must see the photographs within their native habitat, on their own cultural ground. Whether in an immaculate living room befitting a Southern Living feature spread, or cluttering an already tchotchke-jammed consul in a den populated with worn, comfy armchairs – the kind that if they were people, would be doughy around the middle and dozing off after a meat and potatoes orgy.

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More than coffeehouse chatter, or Facebook friendship. Certainly more than a resume, uncensored family photographs telegraph who we are in a way that is becoming increasingly rare in our controlled lives, where each us has become his own PR machine.

With photoshop and all the new fancy-schmancy cameras out there that make everyone a potential professional photographer, I feel like our bad family photos are getting lost somehow. Replaced by an image-conscious collage of freeze-frames designed to make our lives look like one big Friends episode.

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As much as social media has put our lives on display (sometimes in a cringe-making way), the delete photo button has made it oh-so easy to erase every cock-eyed, true dork, zit-faced, fashion-don’t candid that’s ever been taken of us. We used to have to hunt those photographs down and actually burn them out of existence.

Most of the time, they just got stuffed into the back of a photo album – only to be trotted out at a rehearsal dinner, a 40th birthday, or worse, by an evil sibling the first time you bring someone you really like home. That person you want desperately to see you as the cool-cat you’ve become. But maybe, who you discover – as they’re gaping at that picture of you in plaid pants and a bad perm – will like you even more for the nerd you were and perhaps still are on the inside.

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From → family, Uncategorized

12 Comments
  1. I collect photos of people I don’t know all the time. I LOVE them. When I visit a family with no photos anywhere on display I’m a little less comfortable around them wondering if they actually like people. But then I’m a bit judgmental.

  2. I’m with you :)

  3. Ha. Great post, V.
    (Can I call you “V”?) ;)

  4. You can certainly call me V – and thanks.

  5. A friend buys other people’s old family portraits (at garage sales – seriously, who puts that kind of stuff for sale?) and displays them on a wall in the living room. She says she’s giving them a home to still feel loved.

  6. That’s lovely.

  7. And now, the selfie. Don’t forget being caught taking a selfie of yourself and other world leaders at a special life celebration. Ha!

  8. The selfie is definitely a growing art form :)

  9. Oh my god, I LOVED this article. Especially this part: ” With photoshop and all the new fancy-schmancy cameras out there that make everyone a potential professional photographer, I feel like our bad family photos are getting lost somehow. ” hahaha, that made me laugh. and its so true!!!

    • Thanks, Olivia! And btw, I wish I’d majored in rhetoric.

      • Aw! Never gotten that response before! most people are like, “uhhhh, what the hell does that mean?” lol. It’s a fun major, but might be unemployed soon, yikes!

  10. Yeah, but you’d be unemployed if you went to law school, too :) Might as well do what you love. Life is short.

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