SHUTTERSTOCK PHOTO Copyright: Elzbieta Sekowska
It's that time of year where the proofs for school photos come home, the result of which, at least for one son, was a reflection that the day crept up on us without warning, save an email from the principal sent at 7:23 a.m. the same morning with a 'friendly reminder' that it was photo day.
“What are you wearing?” I texted my son who was already on the bus.
“Tie-dye,” he answered.
What else could I say?
Some creatures are naturally photogenic. Animals, usually, and babies who possess a natural dignity that wears off a little past the toddler years, at least for my boys.
I've learnt to accept that a good school photo is a crapshoot, and I can count on one hand the times all three boys came home the same year with good school photos.
“You owe me 16 bucks,” I told my eldest one year when I saw the puffed cheeks and cow-licked hair on his Grade 4 pic.
This year, when my middle son pulled out his proof sheet, it came with a foreshadowed warning.
“Just to let you know,” he cautioned, “I look stoned out of my mind.”
Now, I know he's a good kid and doesn't do drugs. But I also know he's got the world at his fingertips via the internet and is not so naive that he doesn't know what a stoned person looks like. And when I saw the proof with his unready-for-the-camera half-lidded gazed stare combined with a T-shirt replete with explosions of blue, green, teal, and aquamarine redolent of swamp algae, I have to admit, he looked like a time traveller from Woodstock.
“That'd be an amazing internet meme,” said my oldest with a tinge of envy.
In for a penny, in for a pound, so when I went to order his photos online, we both decided on a background that echoed the colours of his T-shirt, adding another layer to the hippie-dippy aura of an already funny photo. I'm proud of my boy.
It was upon the checkout of the online order I saw there was an option to 'retouch' his photo. Now, while I can understand wanting to remove a large piece of spinach lodged in an incisor leftover from lunch, I can't advocate removing anything else from that awkward, memorable, and goofy time period known as childhood.
My own grade-school photos show my hair in various stages of awful coifs from well-meaning mother, and in some cases a neighbour, who thought using Scotch Tape across the hair on my forehead as a template to cut the bangs would do the trick. It didn't.
A memorable Grade2 shot showcased not only a bad haircut, but a perfectly diagonal scar across my face, the result of my crossing the street without realizing my brother and his friends were flying a kite as I ran directly into the kite string. Not only was the scar preserved in time via my school photo, it came with a cool story that I wouldn't have opportunity to tell if it had been Photoshopped out, erasing the accompanying history that punctuates all our weird childhood lives.
While the current Snapchat generation has apps that include Oldify, Fatify (warning – don't use these at the same time unless you're ready to see yourself really old and fat) and, seriously, Baldify, our generation had to rely on school photos, geeky home movies, and a bizarre slice of time travel known as photo booths.
They may not have been pretty photos, but they’re likely a more accurate reflection of history than today’s photos will be a generation from now.