By Elise Seyfried
Put that camera down, please. No, I mean it. Really.
OK, you can take my picture, if you HAVE to, but if you post it online, you’re in big trouble.
I have always been photographically challenged. From the time I was gifted with a Polaroid “Swinger” camera at age 10, my victims knew that their photos would come out all blurry, or that the tops of their heads would be cut off. The next step after watching the film magically develop was always unceremoniously tearing the offending pic into little pieces.
And over the years my skills have improved not a whit. Ask me to snap a picture of you at the beach or, Lord help us, at your college graduation, and you do so at your own risk. When I finally figure out how to operate your camera, be prepared to hit the “delete” button because you will NOT look good. I guarantee it. I inevitably catch my subjects with mouths hanging open or blinking or grimacing. With my digital wizardry, I can transform even a supermodel into a frump.
My current camera has suddenly decided not to save every second or third picture. It’s probably time for the repair shop, and yet I’m in no big hurry. I am absolutely positive the disappearing snaps are duds…my Canon knows best!
It’s even worse when the lens is focused on me. I have one stock expression (smiling) that is tolerable, and so I try to be grinning whenever the paparazzi draw near, even at funerals. Otherwise, the results are most unfortunate: it looks as if I am having a Bad Hair, Face and Body Day.
My sister Carolyn thinks she is very un-photogenic. Therefore, our albums feature everyone BUT her. C is usually off in a corner with a bag over her head, lest a shot accidentally include her. Carolyn believes she peaked, looks-wise, at about age 4. Photographic records of her after that are rare. I’m amazed she agreed to pose for her wedding picture. (She looked lovely, by the way.) It would’ve been more like her to pose my brother-in-law Rob alone, with his new bride as the Invisible Woman. My mom Joanie used to be equally camera-shy. The sad result, now that mom’s gone, is that we have precious few tangible reminders of her. What I wouldn’t give to see more of her on film, even sporting that hideous hairpiece with the blond streaks. It’s mom! I wouldn’t care!
On our family room walls hang very old photos, some dating back to the early 1900s. It was such a different time. Picture-taking was a rare event. Decked out in their finest, looking stiff and uncomfortable, Steve’s grandparents sit, solemn-faced children on their knees, for a family portrait. My dad, at about nine months old, peeks out of an ornate baby carriage. I’m so glad to have these relics of the past, and when I look at them I like to imagine myself into their lives.
My kids are coming of age at the most visually documented time in history. The digital revolution has made photography ridiculously easy. It’s not uncommon for one concert outing to spawn 100 or more cell phone pics. (“There’s Emily and me in front of the Electric Factory. Now we’re making goofy faces. Now we’re making goofy faces and pointing at each other,” etc. etc.) These images are then loaded onto their computers, where they are added to the hundreds of albums already there.
There must be a happy medium, between no pictures and a multitude, a place where my looking silly is OK. A place where C and I can be comfortable, whatever our facial expressions, knowing that the only reactions to our photos that truly matter are those of the people who love us. Looked at through the lens of love, anyone can be beautiful. Try it yourself with even unfortunate shots of people special to you; they look fine, don’t they?
So go ahead, take my picture. I guess I don’t mind too much after all. Someday, my grandchildren may see it and remember me. And come on, sister C, get in the picture with me. Let’s make goofy faces.
Elise Seyfried is Director of Spiritual Formation at Christ’s Lutheran Church in Oreland. She is also an actress, wife, mother of five and co-author (with husband, Steve) of 15 plays for children. She is also the author of a self-published book, “Unhaling: On God, Grace and a Perfectly Imperfect Life.”