My photo shoot — NOT!!
Here’s the photo shoot I didn’t have when my son was born. The reason you can’t see anything is because it’s not there. No, I didn’t have a photographer in attendance. I had 9/11. I had a C-section at 4 a.m. I had the anesthesiologist. But no one was documenting all this — in staged pictures, no less. And I realize I was completely out of step.
When we brought my son home I didn’t have a photo shoot. I have unending poorly-taken pictures from an actual film camera and they do mean a lot to me. And by the way “we” is my mom and me. And yes I was by myself when my son was born and yes my mom’s plane was circling around Pennsylvania for hours the very day before 9/11. And yes, the father was somewhere in the Midwest — Milwaukee, Wisconsin to be very specific.
And no, I don’t have a photo shoot from the first time I went out walking and saw the ambulance that said Bellevue Morgue on the side go rattling down 23rd Street toward the West Side Highway. The doors in the back were swinging open and closed. I saw all the Missing posters and the candles keeping vigil and I smelled the acrid quality of the air. I heard my son squeaking with his little tiny cry at night because he was born at just five pounds. And I don’t have a photo shoot of any of that.
And not of the birthday party we had when he turned four and I brought a spread of real quality food to the playground at Madison Square Park and laid it out on one of the tables. Our elderly friend came with us in a taxi and she helped us set everything up. That September day was warm and clear and pitch-perfect. We decorated the table and mostly adults came. My son raked in gifts, veritably bursting with joy, and showed off his skills on the play equipment that he knew better than any other kid there.
And I didn’t hire a photographer when he graduated from 8th grade. We got a coffee and a hot chocolate from our habitual café on 9th Avenue and then took in the Highline on the bright, hot, late-June morning. He wore his first dress shirt ever, pale grey, with the top button buttoned. He looked handsome and just a touch regal, in a natural and almost careless way. I watched him graduate. He gave a Dick-Nixon peace sign on his way across the stage for whatever reason and later he asked me if I liked it. I told him I did. A dad there told me he was a handsome boy. And I don’t have a photo shoot of that.
Last summer we went on a road trip all the way across the country and we finally both had iPhones. We took selfies at the Badlands and the Grand Tetons and in Seattle and San Francisco and at Yosemite National Park and in Death Valley and at the Grand Canyon and in Rocky Mountain National Park. Our faces are barely in the frame in every shot because my son insists it’s the background that matters and I’m also not allowed to stand too close to him at all ever. An arm’s length is preferable. So I don’t have a photo shoot of any of that and I may have had an excuse when he was born 15 years ago but I have none now. I’d better step it up and start researching before he learns to drive, gets accepted to a college, graduates from high school, turns 18. Otherwise what will I have left — aside from these pathetic words and the 1,000+ candid shots on our phones?
I realize how remiss I’ve been when I walk with my son through Central Park and see the photographers tracking the lives of what must be fifteen percent of the population of NYC on a given Sunday. Don’t even try walking across Bow Bridge on a clear day on the weekend unless you’re ready to vie for passage with competing photo shoots. And also be aware that hiring a photographer apparently turns a public space into private property. I was roundly condemned one afternoon for making passage across the courtyard in front of Belvedere Castle. Forgive me. I was just trying to get home.
Wedding: photo shoot. Pregnancy: photo shoot. The birth of a child: photo shoot. The child turning a certain age: photo shoot. Child #1 interacting preciously with child #2: photo shoot. Mom with child about to have another child: photo shoot. Child’s birthday: photo shoot.
Sticking a camera in someone’s hand seems to transform them into a godlike being as they orchestrate the staged beauty of their subjects. People become so submissive!! They seem so reduced!! A photographer had a pregnant woman in a perfect gown transfer a goldfish cracker from her mouth to that of her toddler-dressed-in-a-suit son so it would look like they were kissing. Ew! Why would you kiss your son on the mouth with the waterfall in the North Woods as a background, and do it repeatedly, feigning enthusiasm and the desire to look natural each time?
I clearly realize we’re all actors in our own dramas in this social media age and I throw the occasional I-did-this/I-saw-this image up on Twitter myself. But there’s just something almost cloying about the rampant popularity of the professional photo shoot. Private, familial intimacy is made so public; it’s so contrived; it takes what should be one of life’s stolen moments — happenstance — and turns it into a spectacle. And people seem to glory in this, instead of feeling a kind of shame.
I know at a certain time there was a belief that in taking someone’s picture you were stealing a part of their soul. Coincidentally those contrived pictures often look utterly soulless. I’ll take a photobomb over a photo shoot any day. And I’ll take my 1,000+ iPhone shots with my son and me at the mere edges and in which his expression suggests he’s not really quite with me. Hell if I’m going to find myself posing on Bow Bridge next Sunday. And I’ll be damned if I’m going to shell out giant bucks to have someone orchestrate my lovely life. That’s why god (or Steve Jobs) gave us iPhones.