You in the Picture

In 2011, I wrote a blog post that said:

In the last three years, I’ve taken over 200,000 photos. Most of these are pictures of my family. My kids, my husband, parents, etc.  I just went back and looked at all of them. Guess how many of these photos have me in them?

Eleven.

I am not making this up. Out of the hundreds of thousands of photos we have of our family from the last three years, my face is in eleven of them. Eleven.

I hate having my picture taken. Since I am the official family photographer, I rarely ever face having to be in the pictures myself. On the rare occasions when someone asks me to get in the photo, I always respectfully refuse to do it. I am quiet about it but also firm. This is how I’ve successfully managed to avoid being in most of them.

I’ve learned that many photographers are like me; they prefer to stay behind the camera. For me, the biggest reason is that I have a hard time seeing myself in a picture. When I look at a photo, all I can see is the bulges of fat or the imperfections in my features. I see the blemishes on my face. My too-big nose. My belly. My sunken eyes. Bushy eyebrows. I can go on and on. I don’t see the happy mom or the loving wife, I just see a flawed human being.

I don’t know how much of this is common across all people and how much of it my low self-esteem but here’s what I do know: I need to get over it.

I need to get into the picture more often.

There are many reasons why it’s important to take the time and effort to be in more of our photographs. This list might be different for each person but here are some of my reasons:

Posterity
I lost my grandmother last February. One of the first things I did after she passed away was collect all the photos of her I could find. I wanted pictures from all throughout her life from childhood to old age. Those photos were the faces of all my memories of her. They are what brought my thoughts to life and I held them close for a long time. They allowed me to mourn and remember all at the same time. I don’t think it’s fair to deny that to my children or loved ones. I can’t imagine a world where I didn’t have any photos of my grandmother. Photos are one of the most significant ways we’re remembered. People don’t look at how big your nose was,; they’re just so happy to have anything of you left to them. So I remind myself that even if I don’t want to do it for myself, I owe it to my kids, to my husband, and other people who love me.

Therapy
While it has tangible benefits to others, I think having my picture taken more often is also going to be beneficial to me. Repetition has numbing power. If I just get in the photos all the time no matter how dressed up I might or might not be, I think I will stop seeing all the details of myself in each photo. It will just become the norm that I am in pictures and I will start looking at it the way I look at the other people in the picture. Seeing myself again and again, hugging the people I love, smiling, and being happy is bound to have a positive effect on me eventually. And even if it doesn’t, it means I will have hundreds of proofs of my joyful life.

Education
Because I get my photo taken so rarely, I have never experimented with different angles or looks. I don’t know if I have a good side. I don’t know if it’s better for me to lean on one foot or lean forward. I don’t know if I should smile with an open mouth or a closed one. Many of these things might seem silly to think about but a lot of being photogenic is about knowing the small details about yourself. Even the most beautiful person can look terrible if the picture is taken from the wrong point of view. So having more photos of myself will give me exposure and opportunity to learn.

Empathy
I take pictures of people all the time. I do professional shoots of families. I take photos of my kids, my husband, my parents and even strangers. I guarantee you that most of these people feel the discomfort of being in front of the lens. As a photographer who never has her own picture taken, it’s easy for me to forget how uncomfortable it feels to be in front of the camera. And since I do this as a profession, I think it’s important for me to remember that delicate feeling. It will make me a better photographer.

Because of these reasons, and more, I decided that 2011 will be the year when I get in the picture more often. I will create opportunities to make sure it happens. Each month, I will set up our tripod so we can get a full-family shot. I will hand over the camera to my husband. I will learn the intricacies of the self timer and find the best spots to use it in my house. I will experiment with angles and creative shots. I will take enough photos of myself that I can see myself as just another person in the photo. I will do this for myself and for my children. And I won’t wait until January.

That’s what I wrote in 2011, and you know what? I didn’t wait. That exact month, I started taking weekly photos of my family. I have now taken photos of us every single week for over two years. That’s over 100 weeks of photos with all four of us in them. Here’s one from last week.

karenika's family

Now that two years have passed, I wanted to share some of what I learned:

The time we sit to take these photos will be some of my best memories for years to come. Even though we take them at the exact same spot each week and it’s nothing special, the fifteen minutes we spend posing for them always creates at least one special moment. One of my kids says something funny or shares something they loved that week or we make jokes about each others’ inability to sit still. We also end each session with tickle time which leaves me with gems like this:

karenika's family laughing

While I still don’t love looking at myself in these photos, I’ve learned to make my peace with it. As I thought it would be, being in the photo with the people I love the most in the world is indeed special and it’s hard not to smile and be filled with gratitude and love when I look at them.

And, most importantly, I now have hundreds of photos with my husband and kids, tangible proof that I was here. I matter. These are my people. I belong in these photos. I belong here. I belong with these people.

I belong.

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