Denise Snodell — If it’s family portrait time, you can just shoot me

01/28/2014 5:28 PM

01/28/2014 5:29 PM

Two kinds of people exist in this world. There are those who have gorgeous family portraits gracing the mantle, and then there’s me.

I really, really stink at the whole visual documentation business. It’s been that way since the day I became a mother 19 years ago, when I waved off the camera while grimacing through some serious discomfort. Little did I know back then that parenthood + cameras + pain would be an ongoing trifecta in my life.

The last time all of us sat before official umbrella lights was four years ago. Our sons were still in braces and a bit baby-faced. Today, with one a college freshman and the other a high school senior, the braces are long gone and the guys get 5 o’clock shadows at 2:30. That kind of rapid ticking reminds me time is running out to capture us as a unit. The nest is tipping off the branches.

When I finally booked a portrait session during college boy’s winter break, I picked a date after Christmas, duh. I was reeling from the guilt of thumbing through holiday cards. Even in January, I continue to receive greetings with artful shots of families sitting under a magnificent tree on a sweeping hill. Where is that hill? Ireland? Provence, France? And why am I not hill-worthy? In every case, the carefully researched photographers captured two things I have found elusive: real sunlight and tasteful, coordinating outfits.

In my head at least, the latest photo op was a disaster. To begin with, the deal I booked was a simple studio session that literally fell on my lap. It had a typical sponge-painted backdrop that centuries from now will help a future archaeologist pinpoint the exact decade this misery occurred. Once again, no hill was involved. Our sun was a bulb.

There’s another problem with this whole picture business. I’m not photogenic, and I accept that. The shame is, and call me biased, the three men in my life are. Doppelganger-wise, I believe if I squint just the right way my husband resembles Mark Ruffalo, and our genes somehow blended to give us teenage versions of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. I should be documenting their striking smiles like the bloggiest blogger out there.

Thankfully, my husband is a paparazzo with his array of digital cameras. I have 1,237 unlabeled shoe boxes of his snapshots stashed around the house, which balance out my large collection of empty, dusty photo albums.

But a professional picture is different. It gets framed and displayed. When the guys were toddlers, we did splurge several times for brother shots. We booked a few talented, artistic photographers but experienced our first migraines ever. Our guys HATED the concept of strangers calling their names in high-pitched voices combined with unexpected popping lights. Those early years, one son cried with every pop, and the other grabbed at us for immediate rescue.

The migraine train kept rolling. Not long after the day my husband famously said outside a studio, “We PAID for that?” the artsy photographer featured a captivating storefront photo of a curly-haired toddler looking up in profile. The little cherub was desperately grabbing at the hem of his dad’s shorts. It was a picture of baby Snodell and my husband’s left leg. (Confession: Best photo ever.)

This time around, my grown sons politely tolerated our portrait plans. I spent days — days — trying to figure out what we should wear. I shopped for some options. I rummaged through closets. I washed and ironed man shirts. I lined up various wardrobe combinations on my bed. I was obsessed. Same colors? Soothing, graduated hues? Casual or formal?

On picture day, I handed my husband and sons their immortal shirts. Two minutes before we had to leave, all three guys appeared in the garage wearing comfortable stuff they grabbed from their closets. And that’s how we rolled.

I have yet to see the proofs. Will I once again experience monumental disappointment? I’ll climb that hill when I get to it.


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