- Brandi Bradley
It's the most photographable time of the year
I don’t think I have ever scheduled a professional photo shoot for my family.
I stood for one once, at a Sears photo studio in the mid-00s because my husband’s sister wanted to present their mother with family photos for Christmas.
It was fine.
I did not enjoy the process of picking out photo-worthy outfits; I don’t have the capacity for coordination that my friends then had. Back then I was selling advertisements at a newspaper in Paducah, Kentucky and more than once overheard an office mate on the phone with Dawhares Department Store querying if they had black turtlenecks in the following sizes: girls small, boys medium, ladies small, men’s XL. This was a phone call she repeated at the Gap, JC Penneys, Dillards, and even Walmart because her sister-in-law said that their Christmas photo would be black turtlenecks and khaki pants for everyone – no exceptions.
But the people of the great state of Kentucky love professional photos. I’m not laying it all on Kentucky, but let’s just say my girl Slone – deep in her bones a Kentucky-bred woman – has a photographer on retainer and has professional photos done for every season, not just the holiday one. For her fall photo shoot, they drug a throne-like chair out into a field and her family stood around her like she was the matriarch of a historic tobacco family. She texted it to me with the comment, “How Dynasty does this photo look?” It did. They all looked amazing. Her kids are so accustomed to having their photo taken, they are not plagued with the awkward, stiff stance that I have when someone turns a camera on me.
And here we are in the height of photo season because now comes the Holiday cards.
Many people all over the world love to have their photos taken by professionals, specifically for these cards. They’re a big deal. Each year I receive one from my sister– she’s wrapped in a tartan blanket scarf sitting on a grassy hill with her husband, dog, and toddler between them. This year she'll have two babies, but the scarf remains the same. She announced her pregnancy on the card she sent me last year. Why not? It is the one time of year when you have all your friends' and loved ones’ rapt attention. And a Facebook announcement would be so pasé. The fact that having professional family photos is not my heart’s desire does not bother me or affect my life in any way … except at Christmas.
Mother F*%ing holiday cards!
Don’t get me wrong, I love getting these cards in the mail. I love to see my friends and their families. I love to see how their children have grown. It’s nice to get the check-in. I hang them up as part of the holiday decor.
I even like to send cards. I kind of enjoy spending an evening with a glass of wine, a bag of pens, and some envelopes, which is usually the thing that everyone else hates. But the rule is: if you do not send out holiday cards, people will stop sending them to you. It’s a universal law. And for me, putting together a family photo would be akin to getting a filling without novocaine.
I read a thing once that said, “The way we spend our days is how spend our lives.” The idea of spending my life cross-examining a store clerk at the mall over multiple sizes of a specific colored shirt and pant combo for an entire family was not how I wanted to do it.
One Christmas, my hubs suggested we do holiday cards with our kids' photos on them. I said fine. I dug up two cute and funny photos of our kids from the past year. One had my older son wearing a fake mustache. He was heading to the dentist that day, and the mustache gave him courage. The other was of the little one playing with some toys. I practically take a photo of at least one of my children every day because they are often doing something silly, funny, or ridiculous. I love candids. I used a template from Walgreens or Snapfish – I couldn’t say who. I sent them out. People loved it. No big deal.
The next year, Hubs came back with some constructive criticism. What if we did something with the kids in the same photo? What if we did some of them in funny Christmas sweaters?
My husband is notoriously cheap, so I queried, “You want to pay a professional to do this?”
He chuckled. “Oh, no. We’d do it. We can take them one day down by the river or to the park. Get some trees in the background. It will be nice.”
“By we, you mean you and the mouse in your pocket?”
I was in grad school. I was working on hammering out my dissertation. I was not taking on new projects. In fact, I had just texted a friend that until graduation, all fantastic ideas would have to be deferred, but I was not taking on any new projects.
He said, “Don’t worry. I will handle it!”
And handle it, he did. He took the kids to purchase Christmas sweaters. He found some at Kohl's with SuperMario Brothers and Snoopy on them. The weather was a little too wet for outdoor images, so he took them to the mall and placed them in front of a fake Christmas tree. I was at home, not participating – possibly grading, possibly writing, possibly baking. When they come home, he’s in a right state. The kids had a great time and came home with purchases from GameStop. My husband collapsed in the chair and went on a 20-minute diatribe about how our youngest son would not take the situation seriously. He wouldn’t look at the camera. He wouldn’t give a regular smile. He was willfully silly as a form of resistance to the process. I have also had my photo taken by my husband before. He takes forever to get everyone lined up in the shot. I, on the other hand, will take a million images and then sift through which one is best. We have different processes.
We sat down together and looked through the photos. Behr sneered, smirked, laughed, and scowled. My oldest son, W., in full teenhood, gave the same face each time. The more I looked at the pictures, the more I could witness the whole dynamic – Behr was being silly, W. was being surly, and Hubs was done with both of them. Every silly, scornful, or scowling face on the screen made me laugh even harder. Hubs, on the other hand, was living a nightmare.
I told him, “See! This is one of the many reasons I didn’t want to do this!”
We had one photo where both the boys were smiling. But we also had another where Behr was making a silly face. I pushed for that one.
“We can’t use that one!” Hubs said.
“But that’s our kid. He is silly.”
The compromise was the “respectable one” made the cover and the silly one made the back cover. It was a hit.
But Hubs was a little burned by the process. Next year, I asked, “Are you doing photo cards this year?” only to be met with a surly yes.
I reminded him that if we wanted them sent out by a certain time, he needed to get on it. He nodded, but days ticked off on the calendar. No sweaters purchased, no photo shoots scheduled, no photos taken. Finally, I pushed and told Hubs, “Look, if we are sending out these cards this year, we have to send them now, like today.” He grabs his laptop and heads to the Staples website.
He builds the card and shows me the prototype. It was a single photo in the middle of the card. The image was of him and the kids crammed into a booth at a restaurant.
I was not in it. Because I took the photo.
“Are you trying to tell me something?”
The colors were retro red and green. A poinsettia bloom hovered in the corner. The Merry Christmas was in a basic script font and a drab color that bled into the background. And on the photo of them crammed into a booth before brunch, it looked like a newly-divorced or widowed dad was trying to make the best out of this damned holiday.
Hubs was oblivious to what I saw. I pointed out to him that I was not in the photo.
“I couldn’t find one where we were all in the photo.”
“I know because I’m the one who takes all the family photos.” All the photos that featured me were selfies. I don’t love having my photo taken. This is me being a control freak. Another person is not going to account for all my angles. So no, no images exist of me that are not by my own hand.
I told him he couldn’t use that photo, and he could never understand why. So I let it go and said to run it. I knew the consequences would be more hilarious than explaining it to him any further.
As soon as the cards hit people’s mailboxes, we started getting messages from our friends.
ARE Y'ALL OKAY?
IS BRANDI OKAY?
YOU’RE NOT GETTING DIVORCED ARE YOU?
ARE YOU SINGLE?
DID BRANDI DIE!?
We had a few days of calming people’s assumptions. It never occurred to him that my absence in the photo would somehow translate to others that I was absent from their life. As a result, we made a rule for cards – if we both can’t be in the photo with the kids, then only the kids will be visible.
But under no circumstances will I swoop in and save this man from himself. I stand by the fact that if he wants photo cards sent to our people so badly, then he is in charge of that project.
This year, he is again in charge of the cards. As the person who takes most of the family’s photos, I sorted through the past year to find the ones where the kids are smiling together or individual shots of them being most themselves. This year’s front runner is one of them standing against a grey wall while we waited to be seated at a restaurant. W. is leaning, and Behr is crouching, and it looks like a cover for their late-90s contemporary Christian rock demo. But last night he announced he didn't have time and we would be sending out tasteful cards from Target instead.