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To Be or Not To Be In the Photos (This Christmas/Year/Life)

By Kellie Purcill

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I took a lovely selfie on the weekend. I’d just had a make-up tutorial, and was looking (and feeling) awesome. I rarely take pretty photos – I’m just not built that way or so inclined. But the pretty opportunity present, so I took the pic, and entered into the philosophical question of our year – whether to put it on social media or not.

It made me think of earlier in the year, when I was scrolling through Instagram, being delighted and amused and in sympathy will my friends who are living all over the world. I saw summer sunsets, children, clouds, messes and weddings and dogs and the carbs of my dreams… but not a lot of my friends. (Feet and shoes not counted). Back then, I took a picture of myself, did no filtering or magic with it – just posted it with this note:
I rarely take photos of myself, but I’d love to see all your faces today so advance reciprocity it is! I love Insta for the glimpses it gives me to what you’re looking at, but frankly I love you! So, take a pic of you for me? Luvies, me. #friendsareawesomesauce #prettyplease #luviessmoochesetc

Then, over the course of a couple of days, I got to see my friends! I got side eyes and bed hair, diva poses and action shots, blurred edges, winged eyeliner and deliberately hilarious angles. I also got oh-i-never-get-my-photo-takens, and you-don’t-want-to-see-me-right-nows and so-good-to-see-you-its-been-too-longs! I was tagged in some photos with “As promised!” and “Just for you!” I had a couple of pics shyly tiptoe into my messages, my email, for my eyes only and not for the social media world’s stare. Every single picture I saw of my friends – wherever in the world and whenever they took it – made me grin, and I went back over the pics again and again looking for the clues, the subtleties that told me of how my friend was doing, feeling, going at that particular random everyday moment. My friends, their faces and worries and hearts and choices all visible on my screen, a moment from a world away.

I have a box of everyday and momentous moments, filled with photographs spanning decades. I’d gone through three boxes of photos a while before my selfie request, thinning out the herd of sleeping baby shots, tracing the evolving jawline and hair of my sons, seeing family members in some and vanishing in others, never to be seen again. Multi-generational shots, posed shots, running out of frame shots, friends and family shot in the wild of the moment and stuck to glossy paper – pictures and events I’d forgotten about, but that flooded back just by looking.

I’m not in many of those photos. When I was in my late teens I was busy, awkward, and the photos were rare. When I had kids, I was the one behind the camera, focusing on the people I loved through the lens, hoping at least one of the shots would be okay once the film was developed. Going through the boxes was bitter-ashes chilli-sweet – so much history, chaos and glorious everyday breaths that I could remember but not see myself in. “I was there,” I tell my boys “I was there, looking at the most important people in my life.”

I take more photos of myself now, though usually it’s with my sons in the same shot. I want there to be proof, visible and tangible beyond a .jpg file that I was present in my sons’ lives, to see my smile copied in glorious variations besides my friends’, to show that I was not – that I AM not – ashamed to be alive and present and willing to mug terribly for the camera when the opportunity presents. I don’t take selfies often. I did on the weekend, capturing a moment when I was both wearing makeup and when my mascara wasn’t abseiling down my face. I posted it on Instagram, shared it to Facebook, as a reminder and statement and nice picture. But then, as much as I liked the first selfie, I took a shot of my usual goofy scrunched grin, laugh lines carved deep and slant into my face.

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It’s not a serene shot, but it’s definitely me – the squidgy messy real life me that people I love recognise. It’s the me I recognise. It’s my profile picture too, until I share something else important to my here and now. I still don’t like my photo to be taken, but I’ll get over myself. Get over myself to take a family picture at Christmas time, multiple times to try and get us all with our eyes open at once. Get over myself and my curves to have my son take a shot of me running into or out of the ocean, get over myself enough to be on both sides of the camera, to be present now and in the future.

About Kellie Purcill

lives way on the other side of the planet in her native Australia and gives thanks for the internet regularly. She loves books, her boys, panna cotta, collecting words, being a redhead and not putting things in order of importance when listing items. She credits writing as a major contributing factor to surviving her life with sanity mostly intact, though her (in)sanity level is subject to change without warning.

7 thoughts on “To Be or Not To Be In the Photos (This Christmas/Year/Life)”

  1. Another slightly off-topic (but not by much) observation is that I too love to get Christmas cards with photos of those I love and enjoy, whom I haven't seen in quite a while, or whose adult children I rarely see. On the other hand, and I take this as a commentary of society's current focus, I have only received 1 Christmas card that wasn't a photo of the giver, including those who live within 5 miles of me as well as others I see weekly. Selfie after selfie after selfie of people I'll see again tomorrow. First Christmas without a Christmas card that mentions or depicts anything to do with the Nativity or the Savior. And yes, the majority of card senders are LDS.
    I don't mean to sound like bah-humbug, but for me, Christmas cards are a simple, easy as to express my belief in and love for the Savior.
    It's not about me.
    So yes, I agree with this post in relation to those I seldom see; for those I see often? Not where the focus should be.

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  2. Christmas cards, unfortunately, have evolved from a Christ-mas card to End of the Year report. Last I sent out cards, years ago, I struggled to find an affordable card that wasn't a depiction of Santa Claus or snow. That was quite a bit before digital printing because so easy, and now all the cards I see are family-picture-card-in-one.

    I like your objective that a Christmas card ought to be about professing and sharing a love of the Savior. It keeps the meaning of the season and omits the pressure for writing a newsletter or highlights list. I think I'll try to do this next year. Thank you.

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  3. A few thoughts I'm trying hard not to write paragraphs on:

    1) Label photos. Just because you know who and when now doesn't mean your child will know who and when later. Same goes for digital photos.

    2) Photos of faces are treasures. Landscapes and horses and houses and other things you love show your personality and character, but it's the faces that are the most treasured.

    3) SELFIES! Gah! My husband could probably write a diatribe on how often I fall behind in a group activity because I can't help but stop and say, "May I take a picture for you?" I am reluctant as anyone to ask a stranger to hold my life/my phone and take a picture, but please! Don't try to cram your family of four and a background all into a selfie.

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  4. I like the newsletter cards. I'm sad that so many of my friends have gone to sending only a family photo with no other information about what they've done that year. Since I only hear from some of these people once a year, I want to know what their families have been up to. And when they do send a newsletter, they only write about the kids–I want to know what my friends, the grown-ups, have been doing. The worst, for me, is to receive a card with no photo, no letter, only a signature. It almost seems like a waste of the postage. I guess we all have different preferences and expectations about what a card should mean.

    As for pictures of myself… I alternate between feeling sad that I'm the only one who takes pictures, therefore I'm never in any of them, and not wanting my picture taken because I'm so self-conscious about my looks these days. My husband comes from a family of not-picture-takers, so it does not occur to him very often to take pictures of me. If I ask him to, he will, but that feels awkward. My kids do take lots of pictures–of my rear end, usually. Or me bent over the table during one of our homeschooling days, almost always in PJ's with hair not combed. I don't like selfies because I can never seem to get the camera angle correct.

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  5. Interesting to me how differently I feel now that I am sixty. For many, many years I sent out cards with a newsletter. This year, however, has been a difficult one and I don't want to share that with people I haven't seen for 30 years, so we sent out a photo of one of our daughters that expresses our feelings and just hoping for peace in the new year and sending our love. I hope that those who receive it do not feel like it is a waste of postage. It really expresses just how we feel.

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  6. Oh! I just love this! And seeing people's pictures. And Christmas cards/photos/letters. I want to do the same request of my friends on FB.

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