The Shame of Those Awkward Photos

Ever look at an old family photo? From when you were growing up? At a friend’s house? From one of your own albums? The ridiculous 80s hair. The 90s style. The ridiculous matching outfits. The weird poses. 

They make you cringe a little, no? But the truth of what’s really embarrassing about these photos has nothing to do with the fashion. Surely, people in the 1890s looked askance at the photos taken in the 1870s and how people looked. No, what’s embarrassing about the photos is only slightly less visible—discernable not in the clothes but in the body language and the facial expressions. 

It’s that for basically no reason this family—your family perhaps—got in a huge stressful fight and made everybody miserable. The arguments over the clothes. The expense (back when these things were expensive). The drive over to the park. The yelling at everyone to smile. Chasing down the toddler who kept running away. Arguing over which of the photos to pick, how many of each print to buy. All of this, why? To have a photo that you look at twice a year?

The photo is not the problem, of course. The photos are a symbol, a symbol of all the things we do because we think we’re supposed to, all the things we do “so we can remember it,” the things we make harder than they need to be, all the “special” things that are really just artificial and in the end mean nothing. 

The memories that matter are not staged. There is hardly any work in them at all. The sign of a happy family is not that they all wore matching denim and stood next to some flowers. The photos that will remind you of the great times do not require elaborate posing. They just happen. They are natural. No teeth must be pulled. No arguments required. 

So relax. Don’t force it. Don’t embarrass yourself.


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