Dear School Photographer
Thank you for your recent visit to my daughter’s school, and for once again taking pictures that make our children look weird. You have delivered a work that your forebears and colleagues would be proud of.
Of course, I myself remember the visits of the school photographer with fondness (if you confuse fondness with nausea). I don’t know how the school photographers of my youth managed it, but they captured every awkward phase of my childhood. In almost every photo, they uncovered a new detail of my hideousness – the sheen of scalp grease on my hair, the oily pores of my skin, that nose, the fat, the stupid derpy grin, etc. They managed to capture the exact moment where my haircut would be particularly tragic. They made parts of my face larger than in real life, particularly my nose.
In one photo, I appear to have a cow-lick that was never seen before, and has not been witnessed since. In other photo they managed to give me a receding hairline, which in my 40s I don’t have, but for years I worried I would develop. They captured the exact moment that pus erupted out of my face in new, oily outpourings, like NASA’s photos of volcanoes on the Jovian moon of Io. They made teeth huge, smiles wonky, acne obvious, ‘invisible’ braces visible, eyes dead or terrified, facial features distorted and unnatural; and above all, each school portrait photograph made me look like your typical Jewish boy. I’m not Jewish.
(OK, some of this is my responsibility. I never liked combing my hair, and for about three years I refused to smile for photos, but still, it’s as though them and I conspired to take the ugliest photos of me ever).
Clearly, these photographers of yore have passed on their skills to you. My daughter brought her photo home this week (after “losing” the photo at the after-school club). It’s not great. She’s wearing the greyest uniform in her wardrobe, and she looks tousled and half-asleep, largely because we completely forgot (or ignored the letter) that it was Photo Day. And yet somehow you managed to make her look like a gawky 14-year-old. She’s 8.
Now it’s always interesting to peer into the future, and see how my daughter will end up, and what she’ll look like. In this case, she’ll look faintly annoyed, scruffy of hair, with a smile that does not extend to her eyes. I wonder how you managed this?
Actually I know, because I asked my poor little girl about your methods to get a cheap shot (which you’re now offering to me for £20 for a pair of glossy prints). According to her, you plonked her down in a chair, bopped her on the head with a foam swim noodle in order to elicit a grin, and “fiddled with her chin”, presumably to get her to lift her head up or down a bit. She did not enjoy the experience.
OK, as a father, the thought of someone hitting my child should be enraging, and right now I should be tearing your balls off with my teeth. I’m not, because I’m not the sort of parent who overreacts and gets violently furious with any other human who goes within 10 feet of my child, or talks to her, or interacts with her in any way; and of course I realise a soft foam *dink* to the head is a useful technique to get a smile out of a nervous child. At least you didn’t tickle her under the arms, pinch her bum, or tell an inappropriate joke. Still, rather like grabbing a woman’s bottom in a nightclub and getting an outraged screech of nervous laughter in response, the humour is not genuine. It’s a social response to being humiliated in public, so the smile is not a sincere one of merriment, more like a smile borne out of awkwardness. It shows.
I suppose if you’re used to tilting up kids’ heads to get a nice snap for Granny’s mantelpiece, then fiddling with a child’s chin is acceptable. To be honest, I’ve never known anyone to manipulate my kid’s chin, so I’m a bit confused as to how to react to what she told me. I know it’s what you needed to do in the moment, but I am instinctively drawn back to the concept of biting your crotch should we ever actually meet. I know it’s unreasonable, probably from the depths of a primordial part of my brain, but you messed with my daughter’s chin. She doesn’t like it, and I feel as though I should not be cool with it either.
So what I’ve done instead is instruct my daughter to do the following. If, next year, you show up with your foam noodles, and you attempt to move my little girl’s chin, I’ve told her to behave as she would if any person were to exceed her physical boundaries. I’ve told her to shout “STOP IT, I DON’T LIKE IT!” and to go to the nearest teacher for support. Hopefully she’ll do it loud enough, and within earshot of enough people, to make you feel incredibly embarrassed and slightly fearful.
My daughter told me she hates being positioned for photos, and really doesn’t like being forced to smile. “It’s being made to look like someone somebody else wants, not actually looking like who I am”, is how she – rather succinctly – put it. She’s absolutely right. Next year, I will provide her with a written statement, signed by myself and my wife, saying that if our daughter doesn’t want to smile, she doesn’t have to. If she wants to pull faces, stick out her tongue, glower, grimace, or look profoundly ridiculous on her own terms, she can and I’m cool with it. I want photos that capture my daughter’s character and personality. I don’t want my daughter having a photo that she (and we) are not fully comfortable with. I don’t want to see that frozen-mask expression.
OK, maybe I’m reading too much into it, and maybe I’m overthinking things, but the photo you took of my daughter the other week is a little disturbing.
Look, I know your job is not a brilliant one. You travel the local schools, taking photos of awful, snotty kids who won’t sit still. And the parents are never satisfied, are they? Every fucker is a critic these days.
But your photos are not art. They’re a social document at best. More likely, they are to be bought by the people who like to display family photos around the home (ugh!). And they’ll be sent to doting grandmothers, who want enforced rictus-grin poses captured in a shitty cardboard frame for eternity, to point at and coo over, like easily-impressed pigeons.
Nevertheless, your game is pretty much a scam. If I showed up on your doorstep offering to write a personalised blog entry for you, in return for £££s, you’d tell me to piss off, and rightly so. But you scuttle into a school, set up your stall and peddle your wares. In this day and age when people have 10 megapixel cameras on everything – cars, helmets, phones, fish fingers, etc – what is the point of you? Especially when I can go onto my computer and find a charming photo of my daughter that captures her joy, beauty, character, charm, humour, and the essence of her self within 30 seconds.
Fuck it, give her five years, her own phone, and a moderate sense of narcissism, and she can take her own pictures of her face that will capture more of her deepest nature than you did on a random soggy Thursday afternoon in October with thousands of pounds worth of equipment and (presumably) training.
In short, this is yet another year I’ll not be buying your shite photo efforts, and instead I’ll take some photos on my own camera which will show my daughter looking genuinely happy, pulling the face she normally pulls, and capturing a lot more of her. And those are the photos I’ll be sending to the grandparents.
Thanks again for your time and expertise.