Last week, I was thinking about how many photos I’ve taken in the last fifty years in which I looked like a troll. Back in 2013, I wrote a post about how I don’t take a decent picture. I’d link to it, but the post contained images that didn’t migrate with my blog.
Perhaps it was the universe agreeing.
I turned fifty yesterday, and along with another year, I gained wisdom. That looking bad in photos isn’t the worst thing that can happen to a person. It could simply be my thing, my jam, my mode of operation.
Kari was a somewhat talented writer, a great friend, funny as hell, but dammit if she took a terrible picture.
I resolved to confront my fear of taking bad photos by taking the polar opposite approach. By finding the worst possible pictures and staring them down. Maybe by sharing these pictures, by searching for my “bad” pictures, I’ll see they weren’t so bad after all.
To be fair, the majority of my “bad” pictures were taken before the invention of the selfie or even the smartphone. We can now edit our photos to make sure we look just right, carefully controlling how the rest of the world sees us.
The smartphone changed the way people took pictures.
The bad pictures had vanished.
Previously, I would take a picture, take it to the drug store or the grocery store, and then wait a week for the pictures to be returned. When I would open the envelope in my car in the parking lot, I would go through them one by one saying, “sucks, sucks, sucks, WHY THE HELL CAN’T I BE READY FOR THE CAMERA? WHO IS THIS PERSON? WHY DID I TAKE A PICTURE OF THE TOILET SEAT??”
But the stories behind those poorly planned and uncontrolled photos, on the other hand, were usually fantastic.
For example, when I was planning a surprise party for my mother and I ended up in the emergency room after cutting my finger while preparing for it. I didn’t want to cancel, so I went on with the party despite being on painkillers and having a hideously bandaged hand.
Someone photographed me wearing a homemade sling created by one of my friends out of one of my kitchen tea towels. I was a hot fucking mess, and I looked high as a kite from the pain relievers, but the party was a blast, even if I don’t remember much of it. Because pain killers.
Or the picture where I’m passed out on a lawn chair with a dog on my lap at a family BBQ (during the day) after taking medication for a sinus infection and then drinking two glasses of wine. Nobody said I made good decisions.
Or how some of the best photos of my husband and me from our wedding were from disposable cameras that were on the tables.
Mike snapped a photo of Anna and me in my hospital room two days after Ella was born after we had a cry. Anna had been an only child for almost eight years, and it was only then that it became clear that both of our lives were going to change. I never shared that photo because of how I looked in it. My postpartum belly, my hair in a tangle, and the angle wasn’t flattering. But now that I look at it with gentle eyes, I am eternally grateful that he took it. Such a personal glimpse into our lives at that time. One that, owing to this photograph, I will never forget.
When we arrived home, I was feeding Ella on the couch, and my mother wanted to capture the moment. She wanted me to remember what parenting felt like in that moment, after a long, trying, exhausting day. Baby Ella was sound asleep on my chest, her face peaceful and calm. She didn’t feel at ease until she was in my arms. The ups and downs of motherhood, exasperation, followed by a deep love.
I am forever thankful my mother thought to take this photograph.
Walking around Six Flags with Ellie and the hat she got while playing carnival games, which covered her entire head, face, and neck. I was just recovering from pneumonia after being knocked down for six weeks. That summer, I honestly feared I was going to die, and going to Six Flags felt like a marathon for me.
But there is so much good in this picture that you can’t see. She rode her first rollercoaster that day; I guided her all around the park with the enormous hat on and she got so many laughs and comments. I ate an entire bag of cotton candy because it was the first food I could actually taste in over a month.
I used to cringe at photographs of myself; my crooked smile, how my eyes squint when I smile widely, and how I’m never ready for a picture even when I try to be. But now that I’m older, I value these old photographs.
“When do I get to the bad ones?” Mike asked as he browsed through all my “bad” pictures. Like how we hate the sound of our own voices, do people see us differently than we see ourselves?
Perhaps we are our own harshest critics. Maybe the imperfect part of these pictures is that I’ve kept them hidden for years, hoping no one would see them. Trying to capture the perfect image of a flawed existence we all live.
Because, let’s be honest, just being in the picture, to begin with, is pretty incredible.