When Was The Last Time You Had A Portrait?

“I hate having my picture taken.” The woman says as she sits down.

“When was the last time you had a portrait taken?” I say as position the camera.

“About five years.” She says. “Whenever the last time we had directory was.”

“Then you should be happy that you only have to suffer every five years or so.”

If you happen to be school age, the odds are good that you have three or four portraits taken a year-more if you are involved in sports or music programs.  If you are a school teacher or a daycare worker you will likely have a portrait taken once or twice a year.  If you work in a Big Box Store or a Grocery Store the odds are good that you have a portrait taken about once a year, especially if you are a member of management and they want to hang your picture on the wall behind the customer service desk. 

But once you are past school age, you can go for a good long while without having a portrait taken.  If you go to church on a regular basis you may get a new portrait once every three to five years-if your church doesn’t do pictorial directories, than you may not get a portrait take very often at all.

Special occasions, such as weddings and high school graduations, warrant a portrait-or more likely a couple of hundred portraits.  Small children are often photographed to commemorate such hallmarks moments as 1 year old, 2 year old, and so on.  Coming of age ceremonies also tend to warrant a few portraits.  Large number wedding anniversaries also often inspire the purchase of portraits.

Which leaves a good deal of time when portraits are not taken.  Years go by, some times quite a few years, without portraits.  Which is one of the reasons that people hate having a portrait taken.  While we see ourselves on a daily basis in the bathroom mirror and don’t take much notice of the incremental changes of aging, these changes seem sudden and shocking when frozen by a camera.

Not everyone is bothered this, I am not overly concerned by my thinning hair and the wrinkles around my eyes-but I am both a man and not yet ready for the retirement home.  Men are not subjected to the same insane standards that women are.  Paul Newman was still considered sexy when he was on a walker and had an oxygen mask strapped to his face, while most women stop getting acting jobs once they past fifty-let alone have anyone talk about how sexy they are.   Of course, I was never exactly Paul Newman to start with.

The point is that most people don’t have portraits taken when they are in the prime of their lives-which is a bit of shame if you think about it.  Yes you have snapshots which everyone seems happy enough with these days, but having a portrait done on a regular basis is a good idea. 

Anytime you make a major change to your appearance-you’ll want to remember those days with the Mohawk or the shaved head, won’t you?  Anytime the family changes, new kids, new home, new pets.  That latest tattoo crawling up your leg or over your shoulder.  Any time you feel especially good about your looks-that Mr Universe body won’t last forever, either.

The point of portraiture is to leave an image for posterity-and there are more and more people who don’t have any personal posterity to worry about.  I see a lot of people who have no children and few friends and their Twitter list probably doesn’t want a 16×20 canvas of them.   I also have a lot of people say that they need an updated photo for the obit picture-which is as close as many people come to thinking about posterity.

Showtime’s Tudors recently ended and one the closing story lines was about Henry VIII commissioning a portrait of himself.  Long gone was the strong and vibrant King of England, merely a fat, ill, and aged man who wore the crown remained.  When he saw the finished portrait he was not happy with it, as it was an accurate depiction of the King’s current state of being.  So he demanded that it be repainted-and so it was, with a much more flattering image of the King.  This made the King much happier-this was the image that he wanted left for prosperity.

I used to give the Obituaries a look once in a while, back when I read newspapers, and I was always annoyed by people who submitted baby pictures for people who died in their 90s.  I don’t know who started that fad but they should be tracked down and slapped-several times.  My own images have been used for Obits countless times.  There have been times when I have taken someones portrait on Monday and they were dead by Friday.  My clientele is an often fragile one-but at least they have a good portrait for their obit.

My own parents where not really into portraits.  I don’t recall ever seeing a professional portrait of my father, though there is a studio portrait of my grandfather.  One studio portrait.  My mother had a couple of vending machine portraits taken when she got her LVN certificate in 1960 and think that was the closest she ever came to having a professional portrait taken.  She was the standard issue Mom who filled books with photos of her children but seldom made any appearances in photos herself.  There are times that I miss her and wish that I had a good portrait.

I have my own portrait done once every couple of years, mainly to do with work.  The Wife has not had a portrait taken recently-I think I should setup the Studio one of these days and do a few shots of her.  Or maybe the two of us could go to some Assembly Line Portrait place and get a $6.99 Special.

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