Family happy snaps were better in the old days
With smartphones finding their way into nearly every pocket in the developed world, it’s easy to forget that film was once a precious commodity in many households.
Mine was no exception, as evidenced by the sheer number of botched photos that remain framed and prominently displayed in my parents’ home.
Today, just about every dad walks around with an enormous DSLR surgically grafted to his right forearm, casually snapping Tumblr-worthy masterpieces at junior footy matches. Even the icy scowl of a hormone-ravaged adolescent can shine with indie majesty given the right light and a lucky shot.
Almost every expression in our childhood photos, however, was strained as a result of mum trying her best to not waste film and get that “perfect shot” - before partially covering the lens with her thumb.
In at least 70 per cent of Tin family photos, at least one person is glaring and/or mouthing “just take the damn photo”. About 45 per cent of them feature the exact same pair of frayed lounge-room curtains in the background, while 13 per cent sported an index finger or sleeve.
Taking “natural”, “spontaneous” snaps was deemed expensive, indulgent and out of the question at our house, where highly-posed photos lined the tops of filing cabinets and leaned against wooden Masai warriors.
“Michael! Sit next to your big brother on that camel! Smile. Hey! I said smile! No! Stop laughing. Don’t frown! Nobody cares that you’re wearing matching outfits. Sit still!” And by the time the button was pressed, everybody would be frowning, squinting against the glare and terrified of the camel beneath them.
There’s an outtake at the end of some action movie where Jackie Chan - who spent much of his early life working with minuscule Hong Kong budgets - scolds his American co-stars for joking around and “wasting film”. That was pretty much my parents throughout the nineties.
The difference, of course, is that Jackie Chan never made people wear matching outfits.
Dodgy snaps also served another, crucial purpose. They tend to prove we weren’t the well-behaved cherubs we like to tell colleagues and distant relatives with unruly children.
They’re indisputable evidence of the fact that we - being the horrors we were - couldn’t even sit still for the time it took for a flash to illuminate our grubby, ungrateful little faces.
They’re science’s gift to parents, who gleefully whip them out at various occasions as an effective way of saying: “Look at this little fellow heartily shovelling a delicious blend of sand and green ants into his mouth. Were it not for us, he’d be gnawing at discarded chicken bones outside a KFC like some sort of sweaty, roaming Danny DeVito.”
Now, however, when I look back at those photos, I see what my parents were really trying to achieve.
They wanted to capture us at our best and strongest, together as a family. They snarled and snapped so that when kids were being chased with wooden spoons or yelling at each other in the lounge over a game of Battleships, those pictures - those images of temporary unity, fleeting solidarity and feigned sanity - would be there at the edge of our vision.
These wonky memories of family are endearing and charming in a way even the most perfectly composed picture can never be.
Families are tales of survival, not perfection. They are matching outfits, mistimed snaps, gritted teeth and smiles and furrowed brows. Sometimes, a carefully-staged, painfully-crafted, insanely-awkward monstrosity is the best way to capture that
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