Yesterday we did that most cliche of American middle class family activities, we had our annual family photo shoot. I use the term photo shoot because it’s an elaborate experience at this point. We started over a decade ago when our oldest was just a baby, and for the first few we kept it simple. We put on our Sunday best, went into a JCPenny store (or Penny’s as I grew up calling it), posed in front of fake backdrop and that was it. I remember being so excited about our first family photo. Now, after years of evolution into the production it’s become, I wonder are these pictures sending the wrong message of who we’ve become? We’re a beautiful family, no doubt. But we’re also a deeply flawed, loud (for no reason it seems), goofy, messy, complicated bunch of people going through a lot right now. Can a photo capture all of that?
Don’t get me wrong, I love our family photos. Our friends and family who receive our cards each year remark how beautiful the girls look and how much our family has grown. I even enjoy some of the pageantry of the process sometimes. I like getting dressed up and going to a location that aligns with my wife’s perfectly curated theme.
But my favorite parts of the process are usually the things we don’t capture in photos. As much as it pains me to say this, there’s something about the chaos behind the photo that I wish we could capture the most. It’s the messiness of the process that gets in the way of the perfect picture that ends up causing the most laughter and grief on picture day.
For example, this year we ended up choosing a location that the girls and I bike to often in South Fulton. It felt strange being there though without our bikes, all dressed up, but it was so gorgeous. While we’re trying to capture these serene pictures of the girls admiring the flowers next to the water, the two youngest start picking up rocks from the gravel road and tossing them into the lake. Before you know it, we’re skipping rocks (or I’m attempting to show the girls how to skip rocks). Now that’s the money shot right there!
Sloane and London (the four and seven year olds) are covered in dirt and so of course they begin wiping their hands on their clean blush(?) dresses. Riley and Olivia (the oldest two) are caught up in a game of the floor is lava. Meanwhile, Tasha is trying to get Samantha and I to look lovingly into each other’s eyes, but we’re a bit caught up in resolving a dispute we had earlier, one that ends with my wife saying, I want to debrief what happened here today…. So there’s that. Lol! It’ll be interesting to see in the final product what the look in our eyes ends up being…
To her credit, our photographer, a family friend has been working with us long enough to know how and when to capture these moments of us being us. But that’s what I love. And that’s what I want to see. And, increasingly that’s what I want people to see about me. I’m in a season of life right now where I’m really leaning more into this idea of authenticity, a hard departure for someone well practiced in keeping up appearances. So for me, while a pretty picture is nice, give me the story behind how we got to that pretty picture. It really is worth all the words.