NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Focus On Your Mother

Just this once, don’t listen to your mother. Go ahead and take her picture at Christmas. Take lots of pictures — neat or disheveled, busy or at rest, with or without grandkids or cats. Do it openly or, if she’s especially camera shy, go ahead and sneak up on her.

Pay no attention to her protests. Ignore her attempts to distract you from your mission. Show no pity if she squirms. And do get wise to her crafty bag of tricks: “Not now, I’m too busy.” “Let me get fixed up first.” Or my own mother’s favorite, delivered with her self-disparaging laugh:  “No one wants to look at old ladies.”

Go ahead. Press the shutter. Your children will thank you someday, probably much sooner than you think. Those photos will make you happy, too. And even if you’re deeply torn about sparing her feelings, resolve to take those snapshots anyway … just don’t tell her about it.

If there’s one thing that every woman my age agrees on, it’s this. We’re not merely reluctant or mildly peeved at the prospect of having our picture taken. We hate it. Hate it!

We do not want to confront ourselves, now or ever, in photographic form. We have a million ways to dodge it. We have to check something in the oven. We slide in back or hide behind stationary objects. Or we grab for your camera and sweetly assert, “Here, let me take it for you, dear, so you can be in this, too.”

We do love photos. We want more … more of you, more of the grandkids. We just don’t care to appear in them ourselves.

Dodging photographers is a grand old tradition for my baby boomer cohort. I blame this not only on our impending wrinkles and lumpy silhouettes. It’s a practice most of us were born into, back in the era of Kodak film and ubiquitous Instamatic cameras.

Back in the day when we ourselves were smoother and less lumpy, our mothers’ common penchant for family pictures represented a not-inconsiderable investment. Not only did capturing those snapshots require an actual camera — the kind that could do only that single thing, not including phone calls, Facebook and video games. The drugstore sold film by the 12-exposure roll, then accepted it back to be developed and printed, all before we could catch a glimpse of ourselves in photographic emulsion.

At our house, that expense was never taken lightly — much less the sober responsibility to make every single exposure count. Casual snapping was unthinkable. Every photo album we baby boomers have inherited from our forebears depicts nothing but personally historic events — family reunions with the relatives from California, masked moppets in Halloween get-ups, and endless birthday parties, along with mountains and geysers from that once-in-a-lifetime trip to Yellowstone Park.

A historian interpreting our past by digging through family photos might be forgiven for concluding that life in North Dakota in the 1950s was just one endless festive party — turkeys on the table, kids gathered in front of Christmas trees, grinning gangly teens in graduation gowns with elders beaming in the background.

Occasional photos of Old Faithful somehow fell into the realm of Dad-ographers, who endlessly fiddled with lenses and Kodachrome.

Female parents, though, controlled all views domestic. My mother was one of them. Frugal to the extreme, she was so aware of the cost of every click that a packet of a dozen processed prints could span everything from Easter baskets to New Year’s Eve. Too, she curated her collection of happy images with an eye to “waste not, want not.” Every page of her albums included fair numbers of chopped-off craniums and children who bobbed at exactly the wrong moment. Pinned to the pages with stick-on photo corners, even the blurriest images of those already aging forward seemed precious in her sight.

I used to wonder how Mom had managed to magically capture every one of my most vivid childhood recollections on film … especially when she rarely went through more than one roll in a parsimonious year. Then it dawned on me. My clearest memories, probably like your own, are actually based on her photos. The family album is the primitive precursor of external image back-ups.

Mothers of that day achieved not one but two goals with the family Instamatic. While charting their children’s growth as surely as marking heights on the bedroom doorframe, they simultaneously reached their own objective. They managed to avoid those dreaded pictures of themselves. After all, the fingers that click the camera control its focus.

My camera-phobic mother managed to spend the years of my otherwise well-documented childhood wrapped in a cloak of invisibility. Not until I bought a camera of my own and starting pressing the shutter did glimpses materialize. Even after she reappeared, evidence shows her mouth was usually open. While these photos are all stills, I can read her lips with ease. In every one, she’s saying, “No! Don’t take my picture!”

My husband, the pro photographer, reports that “I just hate my pictures” is his second most frequently heard comment when someone of a certain age is forced in front of his lens.

What then, pray tell, ranks first? You guessed it — “I hope I don’t break your camera.”

That the first lament is universally female and the second almost always male must come as no surprise. And Russ is cool with these fellow boomers. To the ladies, he responds, “That’s because this is the first time I’ve taken it.” With males, he is more terse: “We’ve got insurance.”

It was Russ’s no-nonsense approach to portraiture of nicely ripened women, honed over years of shooting church directories, that finally straightened me out.

Over our decades together, he’d gotten wise to my subtle strategies. I lurked behind the family snapshot camera, pointing it threateningly in every other direction. In case of occasional slip-ups in which I might show, I reserved the right to sort the prints first … and surreptitiously discard any I deemed less than attractive.

This is why the slideshow for our daughter’s high school graduation depicted the happy saga of a growing child … apparently raised by a single father. Turns out, I edited myself right out of my own picture.

Finally tired of living with a wife who refused to sit still for him, Russ straightened me out once and for all. “I already know what you look like,” he informed me. “Your relatives do. Your friends know. Complete strangers can see you without any trouble. The only person on earth who could possibly be surprised by what you look like in a photo — is you. Get over yourself!”

And so I did. Smartphones and today’s constant snapping have helped a lot. First of all, I employ the self-defense technique mastered over oh, so many years: Wear black. Sit in the shadows. Then deflect the eye by holding a great big white cat in your lap.
Second, I’ve taken a close look at the pix you all post on Facebook, and now realize the bar isn’t set too high.

And even better, now I only say “yes” to photographers carrying iPhones. They’ll never remember where to find those shots afterward, and they almost never enlarge them. After all, everyone looks pretty good when you have to squint.

One thought on “NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Focus On Your Mother”

  • Jackie Brodshaug December 23, 2016 at 1:10 pm

    Nancy, this is exactly how I feel. And I know it won’t be any better next year.


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