Vintage Family Portraits are Like Sitcoms with Laugh Tracks

The term “picture perfect” is becoming less relevant these days.

Last week I was in Dallas on a work trip and the week before that I was northern California on vacation spending a lot of time with my wife’s side of the family, which explains the extremely low number of posts for the last couple of weeks.  (I’m not the kind of guy who announces “I’m on vacation on the other side of the country!” as my facebook status- I don’t think it’s a good idea to announce to the world when I’m not at home.  Maybe that’s just me.) While in Sacramento, I saw a studio portrait of my wife’s family, circa 1985.  Everyone was dressed in their Sunday best, wearing big smiles (for the most part), all looking at the photographer (for the most part), and best of all, a fake forest backdrop was used as the background.

Granted, this was the mid ‘80’s, so anything that happened during that time was bound to be excessively cheesy compared to now.  But here’s the thing- even today, many professional family portraits are still, at best, hokey.  Because they represent a family at a perceived idea of their best, not what is normal or natural.  In the past decade as reality shows have begun dominated prime time, sitcoms have become more sophisticated and life-like; by being more satirical and less slapstick, and also by removing the laugh tracks.  Yet it can be a difficult thing to make studio family portraits less fake and more real.

And that’s why I’m a snapshot kind of guy.

Just as every family has a “family tree enthusiast”, every family also has a default photographer- and in some family circles, I’m it.  I always have my camera with me anywhere I go, ready to snap some shots of whatever unique, random, or funny situation I find family or friends in.  That means that a lot of times, not everyone is looking at the camera.  But a snapshot can often tell such an interesting story- even if the picture isn’t “picture perfect”.

I am so into snapshots, that it’s part of the name of this website.  Last week in Dallas, I met a person who after I told them the name of Scenic Route Snapshots, said to me, “I get it”.  I thought that was pretty cool, since a lot of people when they hear the name and try to repeat it, ask me, “Seen a cloudy slapshot?” But in case it needs explanation, the concept of my site is that I tend to write about things that most people wouldn’t think to question on their own.  I take an alternative, more laid-back approach to things (the scenic route) and take plenty of snapshots to remember them by (memoirs and journal entries).

But do professional photographers exist that take family portraits that don’t run the danger of being as corny as the opening theme song montage of Full House?  Is it possible for a family in the 2010’s to have a portrait made which represents them in a realistic and relevant way?  Yes, I’m seeing more and more begin to pop up- often following the “on locale and in character” formula of high school senior portraits and engagement photos, by placing the family in an environment which is familiar and natural for them.

When I think of a professional photographer who perfectly captures the realness and believability of snapshots in his professional work, I think of “Photo Joe” Hendricks who I’ve been friends with since I first moved to Nashville five years ago.  As I was trying to conjure an image of what the modern family portrait should look like, I immediately thought of his work, which I’ve included in this post as examples (minus the one at the very top of my wife’s family in 1985). These pictures are the equivalent of a sitcom without laugh tracks- more sophisticated, more natural, and more original.

Blog- www.photojoeblog.com

Website- www.joehendricks.com

Adventures in Thailand: Man Cave Time Machine

What’s the difference between 1) our memories of actually events and 2) our memories of old dreams?  In theory, not a lot.

The events that have taken place in real life can actually change the course of history and can produce tangible souvenirs such as photographs which can be taken to prove them in the future, whereas the events that occur in a dream do not really have the ability to do those things (though sometimes dreams do predict the future or inspire a person to “be a better person”).

Whether it’s a remembered actual event or a remembered dream, either way, it’s in the past now and it’s just a memory.

If we could take away the two exceptions, that actual events change the course of history and can produce tangible souvenirs whereas dreams don’t, how is a six year-old memory different than a six year-old dream?

In the summer of 2004, my friend Josh and I rode “motorcycles” (they were more like mopeds) 40 miles outside of the mountain city of Chiang Mai in Thailand, in order to find an ancient cave where few tourists ever bothered to visit.  There were no signs in English once we got there.  No English-speaking guides.  All we knew it that it cost non-Thai people $4 to go into the cave and another dollar for a lantern to actually see around inside the place.

As we got to the back of the cave, our guide pointed behind him to what appeared to be a bottomless pit.  I picked up a rock on the cave floor and tossed it into the abyss and finally after about ten seconds, I faintly heard it hit the bottom.  I immediately imagined that centuries ago, prisoners were thrown down to the bottom only to be met by hungry lions.

There’s no doubt, Josh and I are some of the few American people to have visited the forsaken Chiang Dao Cave in Thailand.  Let’s assume that I don’t embed pictures of that event into this post and that nothing happened that day that changed the course of history (and it in deed, didn’t).

In theory, the events I told about in that Thai cave memory only actually happened because I said they did, a theory that I brought to life in Snail Trails.  Especially if Josh forgot about us going to that cave.  No souvenirs.  No life-changing actions.

So what if I only dreamed that event happened?  What if while I stayed in Chiang Mai I only drove by the signs for Chiang Dao Cave, but never took the time to visit it?  What if all I did was just dream that Josh and I actually went there?

How would that dream be any different than it really happening?

For another related post, here’s The Interstate to Memory Lane

my roommate Josh from Liberty University

the 2004 version of me either trapped in the actual Chiang Dao Cave or in a dream

Why Do People Have to Smile When They Get Their Picture Taken?

The Shell's Christmas 1986

 

My sister and I weren’t good at getting portraits made when were young. I would cry because I was afraid I’d fall off the stand they put me on. And my sister would get mad at the photographer as he tried to make her laugh by waving a squeaky bunny at her.

In our house growing up, one of our family portraits hanging up in the hallway was our Christmas ‘86 picture where my sister was making a mean face at the camera. I looked sneaky and scared. My mom looked like everything was normal. And my dad looked like he was thinking, “Let’s just get this over with”. Classic.

So it was only natural after walking by that picture several times a day I would eventually ask my mom, “Why do we have to smile when we get our pictures taken?” Because all my life experience up until that point had only shown me it was a chore.

The concept of always smiling in pictures is at least a little bit goofy. While I’m sure I smile and laugh a lot during any given day, I couldn’t say that during the majority of my awaken hours I am smiling.

When a picture is taken, it is not to capture the image of a person how they are most of the time, but instead, to capture the image of a person at their best. It’s the same way that our memories tend to work, as well.

The Good Ole Days are good because we are choosing to remember them at their best. We subconsciously overlook the stressful, sad, annoying, and boring parts of the story.

We are left with only the good parts- The Good Ole Days. Like Lucky Charms cereal with just the marshmallows. So is the concept of smiling in pictures. Only the good parts are frozen in time.