The other day, both boys came home with the familiar order form and info sheet in their backpacks: Gear up, mom and dad, it’s almost Picture Day!
I hate picture day.
To be precise, I don’t hate the day itself, since I’m not, literally or otherwise, in the picture. True to my meanness and aversion to being a Joiner, I don’t even volunteer to herd kids to the all-purpose room or comb hair and fix bows.
What I hate is the form itself (murky, impenetrable); the packages offered (many choices, none of which make sense); and even the modifications you can make to the packages offered (again, none of which make sense, because none of them modify the packages to the point where they make sense, at least to me). The packages all cost too much for what they include. In the last year or two, the company’s started offering what seems like a great advantage: a photo CD of your kid, so you can (gasp!) download and print or have printed your own shots. But guess what? You can only buy the CD as part of a package. The most expensive package, the one that includes something like three 8X10′s (I’m sorry, does anyone aside from a few grandparents, my own parents not included, even want an 8X10 anymore?).
Those packages also include weird sizes. You know how a standard photo size these days is the nice, desk-top-frame friendly 4X6? No such thing here! You can get 5X7s, of course, and those anachronistic 8X10s, but no 4X6′s.
But hey, how about eighteen inch-and-a-half by two-and-a-half inches? Really — 18 of them?
Gah. I won’t go on. And in case you were wondering if I was protecting the innocence of the company in question, I’m quite happy to name names. It’s LifeTouch. And they come back in the spring!
My question is this: Why do we fall for the pitch?
These reasons not to fall for it are obvious, but bear repeating:
We all have cameras now. Many of us have very good cameras. Even our cheaper cameras take good pictures. That was not always the case, of course. On my desk right now is a 5X7 black and white photo of my grandmother with my dad, when he was two. A photographer came to the house and persuaded my normally quite frugal grandmother to spring for some photos. He must have plied her with that age-old effective strategy: “But Madam, you look so lovely in this photo! So youthful! And your son! How adorable!” All of which is true, but you know. My point, though, is that these old-time traveling shutterbugs had one major ace in the hole: that set of photos of my dad at 2 are probably the only extant photos of my dad at two. Want to know how many photos I have of Daniel at two? So do I.
Here’s that pic of my grandma and dad:
Everyone we know takes pictures of our kids. Lots and lots of them. I challenge you, right now, to compare a stunning unposed shot you probably have tucked in an album, with one you had taken at Sears Portrait Studio, or its equivalent. I took Daniel to Sears exactly one time for photos, at 18 months. I felt like I should — other moms shlepped to the photo studio on a monthly basis! The shots are cute, of course, with my baby’s wispy curls that are no more, his chubby feet and sweet baby face. But I don’t even have that in a frame. What I do have framed? A shot we took of him at 9 months, on a park bench near where we used to live. It’s so… perfectly Daniel:
Whereas the Sears shots? They’re Sears shots. No more, no less. And certainly no essense of Daniel.
And yet I’m writing the checks to Life Touch. This is the last time, though. I’m doing it because it’s James’ kindergarten year, and because as the second son he’s gotten short shrift photographically, even given our shutter-happiness. And because the grandparents do still like them.
Next year, all LifeTouch is getting from me,I promise, is just enough for the class photo. Then I’m going to spend some time sifting through the four gazillion shots either I or my relatives take of my sons, find the best, and make copies (for cheap! Online!) for the grandparents. There. Done.
School photos are an anchronism. And as my friend Sandra pointed out, unlike when we were kids, you don’t even get a free comb anymore.