"You can't help but wonder at how sweet and sad and innocent all moments of life are rendered by the tripping of the camera's shutter, for at that point the future is still unknown and has yet to hurt us, and also for that brief moment, our poses are accepted as honest"
~Douglas Coupland~

I'm strolling about snapping apparently random pictures outside of the local museum. Inevitably a couple walks up to me to ask me to take their picture for them on their instamatic. Inside I cringe when I hear this. I put on a smile, "yeah, no problem!" and wait for them to get themselves ready in front of some scenic idyllic backdrop.

He looks down at her briefly. He smiles as he reaches out his right hand to tuck an errant curl behind her left ear before stroking his index along her jawline. She looks down slightly blushing with a small smile

CLICK

"Hey! We weren't ready!"

"Oops, sorry, my mistake"

I wait for them again, holding back my itchy trigger finger. They both face the camera blocking most of the scene, arms straight at their sides, looking at the lens. "Say Cheese" (shudder). They fake a smile for posterity.

CLICK

To me, taking photos is capturing moments, small slices of life on paper. Life can not be posed to get genuine honest views of the moment, of the emotion.

I'll lay odds that the picture they frame will be the first shot, not the "WE WERE HERE!" graffiti type shot, but the "You are precious to me. Did you know that?" shot.


The young man was very polite.

"Excuse me Ma'am could you ring me up please?"

"Oh no Ma'am I don't have a credit card"*wry smile* "I'm too young for one of those. I'm still only 17."

He is out with his 15 year old girlfriend and his 13 month old son shopping for clothes before heading over to the studio for a family picture.

"I've got the cash Ma'am. I worked hard the last couple of weeks doing odds and ends. I'm spoiling my girl and boy today. I treat you good, don't I?"

She smiles up at him with adoring eyes as she struggles to tie the new shoes onto the child.

"It's hard getting a good job for now 'cause I'm so young, plus dropping out of school hasn't helped, but I've got plans. I'm enlisting in the navy soon as I turn 18. They'll never want for anything, right Babe?"

He turns his smile onto his young family. She nods enthusiastically in agreement. All eyes for the boy with the big plans.

"Life is good. I'm going places and taking them with me. My boy is going to have the best that life has to offer. I'll see to that. Thankyou for all your help Ma'am"

He looks at his watch

"Come on Babe, time to have our first family portrait!"

I can't help but wonder if the next family portraits will show the conviction, hope, and trust in the future that is sure to show in their eyes for this one.


The face of a young boy stares out at the passengers. He has no hair, dark eyes, a bit on the chubby side. He's wearing a dark T-shirt and a "hurry up and take my picture already willya? I've got places to go and people to see" look. The photo is in shades of grey.

The handwritten note next to the likeness reads...

I am missing. If you see me please call the sheriff's department or my mother L_____P_____ at ###-####. Thankyou N____P____, 13 years old.

The young private anxiously buttoned his jacket. Freshly laundered in butternut grey, the wool coat felt oddly stiff and unfamiliar. In his four years in the army, this was the first time the private had ever washed his coat. He never needed to before.

He was clean shaven, but his hair was long. Saving up for the portrait took all the money he had. There was nothing left for a haircut. He slicked his hair back as best he could, and made his way to the photographer’s studio.

Sitting down in the posing chair, the private heard the photographer ask if there were any props he wanted to include in the picture. Many Johnny Rebs would pose with their muskets or their Bowie knives when they had their pictures taken. The private supposed the soldiers thought it made them look braver, more masculine.

“Yes. Here.”

He pulled a small daguerreotype from his pocket. A portrait of his wife and infant son taken before the battle of Bull Run, his first encounter with war and death. He had carried that picture with him for four years, from Antietam to Fredericksburg, from Chancellorsville to Gettysburg. The plain brass frame surrounding his family had been rubbed shiny over the years, looking polished and dull at the same time.

“You want this in your picture?”

“More than anything, yes.”

The private sat, stiff in his chair, with the picture held fast in both hands.

CLICK

The light was good that afternoon, so he didn’t have to sit still long. As he waited for the picture, he nearly forgot the battle he knew would come the next day, in the woods called the Wilderness. He had already sewn his name on the inside collar of his jacket, so his body could be identified after he was killed.

But now he had a picture to send home first. A picture of himself, proudly holding the time-worn portrait of his wife and child, so they would know, really know, that he had been thinking of them, and how precious they were to him, the night before he died.

Leaving the tent, he smiled.


The morning after I dreamed
of taking a knife
to the mole on my cheek

I'd just had my picture taken
my blemish captured for my grandchildren!
Didn't have but half my teeth

I couldn't bite down
for shooting pain and who knew when
I'd have money for the dentist again.

But this is your grandmother's face          the picture said

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