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my kingdom for a good photo

I’m not going to lie.  There are few things that I love more than a good photo of me.  A good photo is a thing to be treasured.  A good photo can get you through tough times.  Like after weight gain or a bad dye job.  You can hold a good photo, feel its weight, cling to it as you would a dinghy in a rough squall.  A bad photo, particularly one on a driver’s license, can ruin your life afresh every time you look at it.  I took my driver’s license photo two months ago with a very cruel DMV employee who insisted that I push my bangs completely off my face.  For the record, my forehead hasn’t seen the light of day since approximately 1988.  I look extra weird in the photo because I am fighting back tears.  Luckily, I only have to look at it every day for the next two years.

I don’t care if saying all this makes me sound shallow.  Even the deepest rivers have shallow banks.

I’d take more photos of myself, but it’s always tricky to get the proper distance in the frame when you’re holding a camera and pointing it at yourself, seeing as how you are limited by the length of your arm.  It’s also difficult to achieve the proper expression when you’re taking your own picture.  I look best in photos when I’m caught unawares, and it’s mighty difficult to produce the emotion of surprise when you’re engaging in self-photography.

So, if not me, surely my husband would be happy to do the honors, right?  Wrong.  I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that after family and money, the next most contentious topic in our marriage is Tom’s complete lack of interest in taking photographs of me.  I know he likes me.  I know he finds me physically appealing.  And yet.  Lest you think my desire to be photographed is wholly a vanity thing, it’s not.  I have kids, and I would like them to be able to look back when they are older and see that their mom spent time with them, took them places, was a physical presence in their lives.

The issue has lodged firmly in the craw given that I make it a priority to document Tom’s involvement in his sons’ lives.  Tom is an awesome dad.  No question.  But if you saw the photos on my iPhone, you’d swear that he was the best dad in the history of dads.  I take photos of him doing everything with my kids, from making pancakes to nightly baths, to bike rides and soccer practices.  I document everything.  To someone (like me) who has a very poor memory and keenly feels the lack thereof, photographs feel imperative, as if the moment didn’t happen at all unless there is a photograph to prove that it did.

So why not just ask Tom to take photos, right?  Because.  My pride and inner sense of justice balk at the idea that I should have to ask my husband to take a photo of me.  He should WANT to take photos of me, all the time!  More critically, in my experience, asking someone to take a photo of you almost always results in a bad picture.  The person asking (me) is resentful.  The person taking the photo (Tom) is annoyed/defensive/panicked, and isn’t going to take the time to line up the perfect shot.  So you end up with pictures like this.



I mean, what the F am I supposed to do with photos like these?  Looking back on these later in life, my kids might think their mom had greasy hair and fat upper arms (first photo), or that she had greasy hair and was too tired to love them (second photo), and I can’t have that.  I can’t post these on Facebook.  In other words, these photos are completely worthless.  And these are the kind of photos I get almost every time I ask Tom to take a photo of me.

I never stop trying though.  Sometimes when we’re doing something particularly photogenic with the kids, I will make Tom stop to pose for a bunch of photos, assuming that he will at some point stop and say, “Hey, let me get a photo of you!”  Yesterday, we went on a long bike ride with our kids on the banks of the Deschutes.  Every turn opened onto a scenic vista of water, sky, and grass.  I couldn’t confirm it because I hadn’t packed a mirror in the Burley, but I sensed that my hair was looking good, given the speed of the winds.  I knew I was tan, which always works well in photos.  My kids were looking as cute as it is possible for children to look.  It was practically criminal that photos of us were not being taken.  And YET.

I made it about 45 minutes before I pulled alongside Tom and demanded to know why he hadn’t offered to take a single photo of me with the kids on the ride.  Tom responded by immediately turning his bike around and leading me on a redo of the entire loop so that he could take photos of us, but by that time, I knew it wouldn’t be the same.  I’d look angry or bitter in the photos, despite my best attempts to shine for the camera.  And worse still, I would feel embarrassed, and pitiable, that I needed a photo so badly that my husband would need to repeat a 45 minute bike ride to get it.

But then, a great thing happened.  Finn asked to take a photo of us.  Seeing my five year old balance the phone in his hands and cock his head to line up the shot made us smile.  And the photo was good.  I looked at Finn with newfound respect, and with hope for my future in pictures.


50 Comments Post a comment
  1. Heidi #

    I love my hubby, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve harbored a secret wish that he was a professional photographer, or at least an amateur hobbyist. For some decent photos of me, of course. Learning to use the zoom feature on our point and shoot would be a good start, but alas, even that seems to elude him. My children will look back on albums of their childhood (if I ever get around to making albums) and might even wonder if they had a single dad for periods of their lives, or vacationed solo with daddy. It’s a sad life for us photo takers of the family, and I’m sure we’ll look back bitterly at some point, as we thumb through the albums we intend to put together when we have more time.

    August 29, 2012
    • the worst for me is that Tom WAS into photography before we got married. it’s like he finds me not sufficiently interesting to photograph. or like I dried up his inspiration. I’m his anti-muse

      August 29, 2012
      • Heidi #

        Ouch! I’m not sure which is worse – knowing your husband would photograph you (grudgingly) if you asked but it would certainly be a terrible picture, or knowing that he could take a great photo but just doesn’t do it! Both have the same bitter result, I suppose. At least I can chuckle with you in understanding and sympathy, sometimes that’s all we can hope for.

        August 30, 2012
  2. YES! This post = my adult life. When I was in college, my friends and I would take pictures with and of one another. Since then, I think there’s maybe four pictures of me in existence. My boyfriend is completely against photographs being taken of him, so therefore there’s no pictures of US. And because he hates cameras being around him, it doesn’t occur to him that other people might want pictures of themselves… So yes, I get it. And your desire for decent pictures of you is completely reasonable. Thank you, Yoona, for once again putting my life struggles to words.

    August 28, 2012
  3. I am litterally laughing out loud. I completely relate. My husband huffs everytime I ask him to take a picture of me and my babies. And like you, based on my photo roll my hubby is the greatest father EVER!

    August 27, 2012
  4. Astrid #

    I’m not alone! That’s comforting, thank you.

    August 24, 2012
    • why I love blogging–the affirmation that everything we go through is felt by others

      August 24, 2012
  5. well, that’s the ticket, have the kids take all the pictures. you can be their muse, then pick out the ones you like. it’ll even scream ‘good mom’ – you’re so smart with your budding photographers.

    August 24, 2012
  6. Oh dear, we’re onto a very difficult subject here! I hate having my photo taken and avoid it if I can – so does my partner. Consequently we rarely take photos of each other, other than a brief flurry in our first years together (lurrrve and all that). I’ve found that the photos of me that I can stand to look at are the ones where someone has made me laugh unexpectedly. So that means I’ll look like a mean convict in all the official ones that go on documents because you have to have a straight face in all of them (how boring). A fellow blogger took a shot of me at a local skatepark that we were both featuring and I almost passed out when I saw that I was on his site, a shot just of me, but find it quite funny now. I don’t look too bad in it but the truth is I’m no oil painting (my other half must really love me) and no amount of careful lighting or makeup will change that. You, on the other hand, have nothing to worry about. Love that shot of you doing a workout and the one in the hat. If that was me I’d look breathless and on the point of collapse or the hat would slide down over my face at the crucial moment (not such a bad thing some would say…).

    August 24, 2012
    • you sound lovely and even better, self-deprecating in that British way. i have no doubt photographs of you reflect your charm

      August 24, 2012
  7. My husband is the same. My kids are now old enough to have their own cameras but even they don’t take many photos of me. My 13yo usually only does if it is in a “selfy” with her. I might as well take these photos myself.

    August 23, 2012
    • hey, better part of a teen’s selfy than no pic at all…

      August 24, 2012
  8. Shoe #

    Never noticed one eye was bigger than the other until I saw your DL pic. xoxoxo

    August 23, 2012
    • I’ve been telling you for years. and technically they are the same size but I only have the whitey eyelid fold on one side. Not that I’ve obsessed about it for decades

      August 24, 2012
  9. Gulgun #

    “I’m just waiting for your comment on Yoona’s latest post.”

    That’s the email I found in my inbox from Brett this morning. He makes up for in self-awareness what he lacks in inclusive photography skills.

    A couple of years ago I decided to pay someone to photograph our family once a year. That has allowed me to accept my absence is every other picture of my children. Or come close to accepting.

    Be well, Yoona.

    August 23, 2012
    • self-awareness is a very good place to start. so i applaud Brett for that. now, start snapping pics of your lovely wife, dude

      August 24, 2012
  10. Kristin Corcoran #

    Yoona, clearly this a common problem not addressed in the husband handbook! I think this is where the “additional child is your husband” or using this as a ” teachable moment” thing comes into play with the constant reminding and teaching them that making sure everyone needs to be included on photos. Maybe each taking the camera for 30 minutes each and that persons needs to make sure that everyone is in at least two photos .
    WAIT! What am I thinking. This is all good in theory, but let’s face facts! We will usually be the go to person to get the shot we want unt the kids are ready to step up and it looks like they are! Maybe Tom will learn from this kids!

    August 23, 2012
    • It’s never a bad thing to have aspirations, right, kristin? I like your original idea

      August 24, 2012
  11. Hooray — you’ve so artfully articulated the angst I feel when downloading pictures from our latest adventure, discovering that there are only 1 or 2 of me (the ones I asked for or did “selfie” style)… and to think I have a husband who went to freakin ART SCHOOL!

    I truly believe that taking an appealing picture of someone doing something they love, surrounded by people they adore — and capturing this moment for them for years to come — is one of the most generous gifts we can give to each other. So I guess that’s why I’m so sad to know I’m such a cameo in my own photo collections.

    So, I too have resorted to teaching Alonzo how to shoot. And luckily for me, he’s into it.
    Spot on, Yoonanimous — thank you!

    August 23, 2012
    • that’s a lovely way to think of photos, and apropos because you’ve taken some of my favorite pics of me. can’t wait to see alonzo’s pics of you in maui…

      August 24, 2012
  12. Alison #

    Ha Yoona thank you for saying what I’ve always secretly been pissed about in our family photo dynamic! Then add a teenage girl who NEVER wants to be photographed and you’d think that Bruce and Ben have a wonderful father-son household with a travelling photographer and stylist.

    August 23, 2012
    • alison, the answer is simple. put that camera in your daughter’s hands and start squeezing yourself between bruce and ben. certainly your presence will improve every photo

      August 24, 2012
  13. I’ve actually taken one of the photos on this post and improved it immensely. Contact me off list for a look-see.

    August 23, 2012
    • i’ll bite!

      August 24, 2012
      • Ok, so are you able to erase my email address if I post it to you in this forum? If so, I can post it here and you can contact me so I can send it to you. Or, you might know what it is since I’m subscribed. It turned out fairly decent, I think.

        August 24, 2012
  14. Kim #

    In our family, Dustin is the one who takes all the pictures, so I am constantly featured and I despise being in pictures. I spend a significant amount of time insisting that he delete pictures of me. And when I do take a picture of him, I do it badly. I think you are a liar, though, because you look good in all those pictures! I could show you some bad pictures. You obviously have no idea. Also, what if my upper arms ARE fat? My kids will probably always know this.

    August 23, 2012
    • kim, i would suggest a spouse swap but that seems unseemly

      August 24, 2012
  15. Leah #

    Glad to know I’m not the only one who feels this way! Our last vacation had only shots of my husband and none of me. And boy is he good at posing. You would think he’s a single father! What happens if I suddenly pass away? The kids will have no recorded memory of me. No picture to cling to. The only time I get picture of me now is when mom comes to visit because she understands my ‘pain’. And now I’m retaliating by refusing to take pictures with him in it. It’s getting ugly…

    August 23, 2012
  16. Amen to this! My husband can’t even figure out how to use the camera. So I’m the family ghost–always there but never documented in photographs. Your description of needing photographs to remember moments resonated with me. I do the same thing and always long for the rare good photograph. Oh and my DMV photo is even worse–they made me push my bangs back and told me not to smile. I look like someone who could knock off a bank. It’s bad.

    August 23, 2012
    • i’m glad to have confirmation that the bang rule was not just made up the cruel DMV employee i got. it makes the memory sting a little less…

      August 24, 2012
  17. Lori #

    My honeymoon photos are titled (by me) “Greg goes on vacation”.

    August 23, 2012
  18. sbt #

    Oh Yoona! You’ve captured the dynamic in our family perfectly. It’s like pulling teeth to get TK to take a picture with me in it, and it’s my secret fear that we’ll have kids and I’ll NEVER have any sweet pictures of me with them to look back on. It will be all fat-upper-arms, bike-helmet-hair, and questionable clothing selections – most likely with my eyes closed to boot. Sigh.

    August 23, 2012
    • i don’t see thor as a big photographer. too busy DOING. but sarah, don’t ever give up the fight

      August 24, 2012
  19. I think your husband might be scared to take a picture of you given the way they turn out when you ask him to take 1. While I’m not a fan of the camera (it always seems to add 100 lbs onto my generous frame, lol) I do enjoy taking candid shots of others, sometimes without their permission. As none of my pics will ever end up causing offence and I don’t move in the “right” circles, it probably won’t matter anyway.

    August 23, 2012
    • i agree that fear is a big part of the mix for tom. but the rest of the mix is laziness

      August 24, 2012
  20. my two year old managed to take some pictures of his brother with my big heavy DSLR over the weekend I was so proud. I’m glad my wife doesn;t try and take my picture as I hate pictures of myself, too many chins.

    August 23, 2012
    • amazing! my friend mandy just showed me the iphone pics taken by her son–legos and other toys, i found it really touching, what kids consider important enough for photos

      August 24, 2012
  21. So true, and so funny!!! My husband is around about 2 seconds per week but judging by our family photos, you’d think he was a single father. I pay a professional once a year to take pics of me and the kids just so they know I was around at some point. (And then plaster house with said pics for my own enjoyment.)

    August 23, 2012
    • professional photos: the ultimate solution. but deciding what to wear for professional photos sends me into hysterics

      August 24, 2012
  22. Past a couple of predictably horrifying hospital-bed-with-newborn shots, according to all available photographic evidence my children were raised solely by their father and a mysterious occasionally appearing hand (sans box, slightly one upping the Addams Family).

    It isn’t only husbands who can’t/won’t play nice with a camera. When a group of female college friends and I gather annually I am apparently the only one who can be trusted to take thoughtfully cropped shots avoiding kimono arms or chin sags.

    Actual recorded (aka burned into my memory) comments: “Your friends are holding up pretty well” looking at photos I took. When viewing the shots taken by others with my own self included? “Soooo remind me- you are the oldest one of the group?”.

    August 23, 2012
    • group photos of women scare me–taking them, and being in them. i always jockey not to be the one at either end, because of the dreaded fat arm effect

      August 24, 2012
      • My strategy is to get smack in the middle, with both arms behind the women on either side of me, or else declare myself the “tall” one and get behind everybody. Past that a gal’s gotta remember to keep her head up to avoid the folding neck phenomenon and et voila!

        August 24, 2012
  23. Awwwww!!! I was totally feeling your pain and was SO SAD through this whole entry. My husband has the same affliction and my asking causes all the same results. Brutal. But OMG your son is AMAZING and PERFECT! I can’t wait until my offspring is ready for this.

    August 23, 2012
    • a perk to having kids that the baby books don’t tell you about

      August 24, 2012
  24. Tami #

    After scrutinizing last year’s holiday photo, my husband said, “I looked a little hunched over, don’t you think?” To which I replied, “This isn’t about you.” And out the card went.

    August 23, 2012

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