The Funny Thing about Old Goofy Pictures of Ourselves

Old pictures are funny.  But that means current pictures may eventually become funny too.


No matter who you are, you didn’t look cool in 1992.  That was a brutal year was for clothing fashion and hairstyles:  Both male and female mullets, pale blue jeans, neon and/or gold accessories.  It was just atrocious.  But at the time, people didn’t necessarily realize how laughable they truly looked.  (I was aware, but that was also the year I started Junior High, so by default I felt especially awkward.)

But 1992 isn’t the only year where if we look back through our old snapshots, we’d see an embarrassing version of not only ourselves but also of each other.  The general rule is that pictures of ourselves from at least ten years ago are definitely going to be funny.  I remember clearly thinking in 1995 (freshman year of high school), “There is nothing about right now that I will be able to come back and laugh at in the future.”  But while I was thinking that to myself, I was wearing a hooded flannel shirt with Airwalks and my hair was parted down the middle like Sean from Boy Meets World.  Though I was probably trying to look more like Corey’s older Eric at the time.

Of course it’s not just outdated fashion that makes these old snapshots so goofy.  Physically, were we most likely a bit different back then, too.  A while back, a guy from work brought in a picture of himself from the mid ‘90’s when he was about 50 pounds lighter and still had hair (and his hair was still brown).  It was interesting to watch people’s reactions as he showed the picture to people individually.  What was the best response?  “Wow, look at that stud!”  Or laugh and say, “That was you?  You looked funny back then.”  Either way, it’s a weird situation to be put in.

And that brings me to this point: Ten years from now, there’s a good chance that we will laugh at pictures of ourselves from the year 2010; despite how normal-looking and not funny-looking we think we look now.  So in one sense, we can never really look normal.  It’s funny how in an attempt to appear to be modern, we inevitably set ourselves up to be outdated.


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A Snapshot’s Worth a Thousand Words: At My Parents’ House in Alabama

Here are 17 snapshots.  Plus the 301 words in the body of this post, not including this heading.  You’re dealing with around 2001 words, my friends.

Today I’m taking a break from writing to share some random items in my parents’ house in Alabama, where my wife and I spent the weekend.  It’s true that every picture has a story.  And these little stories make up our lives- they make up who we are.  So by looking through these snapshots of the house I grew up in, you’re taking a look into my memory pool- the same one I use to write from.

This is Samantha Shell.  In September, she turned 20 years old.  Samantha is a Cockatiel.

This is one of two windows in my bedroom.  My parents bought that little guitar for me when they went to The Philippines in 1995.

This is my sister’s bedroom, which has recently been transformed into a guest nursery for Baby Jack.

Here is my dad’s 1988 Ford Ranger he bought nearly new.  It’s still his main vehicle.

You never know when you might have to blow your nose while driving to work; less than a 10 minute drive for him.

He put these plastic lizard in the dashboard several years ago.  He says it successfully scares away flies.

This cross used to be dark red and white.  It was crocheted circa 1993 and has been hanging on his mirror since then.

This cross is my Italian grandfather’s.

And it opens up, as my mom demonstrates.

Two monkeys and my sister the ballerina.

Yours truly, from 1986 to 1999.

My parents and I in 1982.

My friend David Smith and I broke this Nashville mug that my dad bought for my mom when he went on a business trip.  We stayed up until after 1 AM to superglue it back together.  I’m not sure that it actually still holds liquid.

Classic frog and shroom.

My sister and I in 1991.

Local newspaper clips on the fridge. Busted!

Double busted!

The Return of the Small Town: Boom Days 2010 in Fort Payne, AL

A glimpse at the culture of Fort Payne, Alabama.

It can be common for people who grow up in a small town to want to move away as soon they graduate high school, as was the case for myself.  Since I graduated from Fort Payne High School in 1999, I have lived in Florida, Virginia, and for the last five years, Nashville.  That means for over 11 years, I have pretty much lived away from the hometown that molded me.  Now, I realize that a lot of this could be that I am married now and have a baby on the way, but I must admit, my old hometown suddenly seems really cool again.  Maybe it’s because the pace of my life is slowing down, compared to my single days and even my married-with-no-children days, and is now starting to match the speed of a small town and no longer a big city.  But I still think something special is happening in this small town, apart from my interference or commentary.

This past weekend my wife and I spent the weekend there with my parents, sister, and her husband.  My sister Dana had mentioned to me that there was this thing going on called “Boom Days” on Saturday in the city park.  She heard something about free pancakes and people dressed up like “old times”.  That’s all she knew.  I was way too curious about this possible Lord of the Rings picnic not to go.  So I went.

Turns out the pancakes weren’t free, but instead they were part of an all-you-can-eat-pancake-buffet for just five bucks, and the people dressed up were Civil War reenacters, not from Medieval times.  There was also a llama, a clown, a car show, a guy on a unicycle, horses, cool crafts exhibits, three concert stages, (four if you count two guys playing bluegrass on the sidewalk), a BBQ competition, and even a dog show.  I had originally only planned to check it out for a little while to say that I went, then leave.  But instead, I was there for over two and half hours and left with a slight sunburn.

In other words, I had a whole lot of fun.  It was a reunion of sorts: I caught up with some childhood classmates like Alex Igou and Tiffanie Baker Vincent, as well as our legendary elementary school librarian, Mrs. Jane Mauldin.  Boom Days 2010 was truly the kind of city wide event that had something for everybody.  I predict that like the days of June Jam (1982-1997), Boom Days will similarly help the culture of the town to resurface.

It wasn’t really until I was in college and started bringing friends home for the weekend that I realized that Fort Payne supersedes commercialized stereotypes of what a small Southern town is supposed to be like.  Fort Payne is not simply Country music, cows, and tractors- which are all good and necessary.  Being that when I was growing up I was constantly in plays and musicals, most of them written and directed by native Eddie McPherson, I was always aware of Fort Payne’s love of the arts.  It has to mean something when there are two theatres in downtown, on the same street, a block away from each other.

Fort Payne is also set apart from many towns in that half of the city is on a mountain and the other half is in a valley.  I grew up on the mountain side, sandwiched in between Little River Canyon, Little River Falls, De Soto State Park, and the artistic town of Mentone.  So while the valley half is where I learned to be social and outgoing, at school and at church, it was the outdoorsy mountain half that catered to my introspective and artistic side.  Simply put, Fort Payne is the perfect environment to yield well-rounded and level-headed people.

It takes a village.  Mine was Fort Payne.

All of the scenic route snapshots  used in this post were taken during Boom Days 2010, courtesy of Nick Shell.


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

Dr. Deja Vu: The Scenic Route

If I could go back in time and speak to the version of myself from ten years ago, I would give myself “good advice”. About which college to go to, what to major in, what hobbies to take up, and where to live after I graduate college. About what to say to people and what not to say. There are a lot of things I would tell myself to do differently. So that I could become the best me.

But then I would be a much different person today. In essence, I wouldn’t be me. Though I would have life figured out, it wouldn’t be my life.

From 1995 to 2006, I spent hundreds of hours writing and recording and performing music. All that time, it seems all I really did was keep myself entertained. At the surface, it led to nothing lasting.

But writing hundreds of songs made it easy for me to write for this website. It took an old hobby to make a new one.

If I went back to myself ten years ago and told myself to take up an interest in daily creative writing (instead of music) so I could eventually have a website that a small corner of the world reads, the younger version of myself probably wouldn’t have been very motivated.

Life is made up of countless bland surprises that end up shaping who we are.  The ordinary turns into the exciting.

And of course my musical past is only one minor detail in the strand of events that brings me to my present day.  But without it,  I wouldn’t have moved to Nashville to pursue a musical career and a year later met my wife.

So what’s the best advice I can give myself today? Don’t go back in time and give yourself advice. It would only mess up everything. Not help it.

As much as I try to structure and plan out my life, it has ended up being something slightly different instead. Instead of taking the interstate, by instinct I end up on the scenic route every time. Capturing my current thoughts and perspectives in my writings which become like snapshots. Scenic route snapshots.

“And when I look behind on all my younger times, I’ll have to thank the wrongs that led me to a love so strong.” – “Perfectly Lonely” by John Mayer