Saturday, January 02, 2010

The family photographer

Anyone who knows me even remotely knows that I cart my camera with me pretty much everywhere I go. From after-school pickup to interviews at the television station to shopping for mittens and scarves, I almost never leave the house without my beat-up old camera bag slung over my shoulder. I guess I like the security of having it with me. Our kids have blankets and bunnies, while I've got my beloved Nikon.

The same thinking applies to family get-togethers. I bring the camera along because I want to remember the folks I met there. We often go years between such meetings, so a documented record of the event helps me hold on to these folks who, despite the distance, remain important to me. I also bring it because I find crowded rooms overwhelming, and having my camera in my hand gives me something to focus on and to break the ice.

Most folks get it, and they amiably dive into my ongoing game of socio-photographic family togetherness. Some folks, however, do not. And I ran into one of them last week.

About halfway through a delightful brunch with family from far and wide, one relative approached me and rather coldly asked me why I hadn't yet taken any pictures of her side of the family. She proceeded to berate me for focusing exclusively on my wife and kids, and for ignoring her and her brood. She told me I needed to get a move on because they were planning on leaving soon.

So while my flabbergasted brain processed this fit of staggering rudeness, I maintained an impassive face as I thought of the following points of fact:
  • No one hired me to be the event photographer. This wasn't a gig, and I wasn't aware that she had appointed me as the de facto professional photographer for her family.
  • I had already covered the entire room, and by the time she opened her mouth I was certain I had at least one photo of everyone in attendance - including her brood.
  • She hadn't offered to take any pictures of my kids. Come to think of it, she hadn't brought a camera. And while we're at it, I don't remember her taking any pictures at any previous family events.
So, friendly-Canadian-pacifist that I am, I smiled politely and told her I was well on my way toward taking everyone's picture, and I'd be happy to share all my pictures with her when I was done. I decided against responding with sarcasm, because it probably would have been lost on her anyway.

Your turn: How do you respond to such rudeness? I guess some folks would simply leave their cameras home in future, but I'd hate to lose out because one bad apple among countless amazing ones decides to ruin the moment.

One more thing: The day was wonderful. I reconnected with people who loomed large in my life even though I may have last met them when I was a kid. I learned who they were, what drove them and how they had left their mark on the world. I found myself in the middle of crowds of people, bantering with them as if we had never been apart. It was difficult to leave, and I found myself wishing geography didn't have to be such a barrier to family togetherness.

I decided not to let the photo-deprived outlier cast any more shadows on the day. Life's too short, after all.


AussiePomm said...


I don't know how I would have handeled it at all!! Most likely with the sarcasim you were good enough NOT to have used!!!

Oh, and whilst I am at it, I also tend to have my trusty (Canon) camera with me as well where ever (ok, ALMOST where ever) I go as well. AND, I am know as 'that uncle with th camera' but in a good way... I have always taken a family gathering photo at the family events. So glad I did, as some of those family members (like my wife) are no longer with us. RIP...

daisy said...

You always seem to take the high road and I admire that. Happy New Year.

Mark said...

I probably would have responded in the same manner, but more because I'm chicken than because I judged whether or not sarcasm would have been lost on that person.

Do you ever record the folks' voices? At the end of the day (or the person's life), I find that the photos are great, but in the few cases where I have a recorded voice, the memories are much more poignant. What a person sounds like is a large part of what makes them who they are. Mannerisms, inflections, even simple throat-clearing, can bring that person right into the room unlike a photograph.

That said, I'll still carry my trusty Nikon.

kenju said...

Like Mark, I am a chicken, so I would probably have responded as you did.

What I would like to have said is just what you wrote here!

bobbie said...

Happy New Year, Carmi.

Glad you had a good get-together despite the rude one. At our family gatherings, there are a couple who want to know why my daughter and I take so many photos. Haven't run into the other side of things. I think my son is afraid I might post his on my blog, which he has asked me not to do. He's afraid of internet crazies using his or his family members' pics. Of course, I respect his wishes.

John said...

I admire your reaction to her rudeness. I think if more people could internalize their reactions as you did the world would be a much better place. While you called it passive, I believe it takes a great deal of work to refrain from being swept up in our culture's 'me first' mentality.

After all was said and done you were composed and had a good time.

Linda said...

You were much kinder than I would have been. I would likely have told her that I was taking pictures for ME and MY family, not for everyone else and to please MYOB (only not so nicely stated).

I often get asked to take photographs of events...generally for free. So when I have gotten a comment that my children appear in many of the photos I usually state that since I'm not being paid, I'm entitled to find whatever subjects favor the camera...and usually my children do that best.

You handled it well, Carmi...

David Edward said...

I'm sorry, Carmi. I thought my ex-wife was safely caged in or near San Diego. In the future, pay her no mind.

~j said...

God bless the peacemakers. We always say that other people's quirks should have no effect on our integrity. Her rudeness belongs to her and your gentle spirt cannot be conquered.

MB said...

HAHAHAHA...You handled that situation with such restraint and class. I'm not sure what I would have said to her but I probably would have stuck the flash in her face until she started seeing spots.

I'm the family photographer too and even though I always have my camera (Canon) with me, I'm not always in the mood to take pictures all night. I'm always getting grief about not taking enough pictures. I guess that's the price we pay for always looking through the lens.

HAPPY 2010!

The Writer said...

I've got just one word, relatives...bah humbug. Families are great really, but it is like the old can pick your friends but you can't pick your families. And don't they understand that artists can not fully express themselves when hounded or under some kind of ridiculous pressure.

You've got charm, and that much more than I. Also, the day turned out okay. I think you handled it well. Happy New Year.

Anonymous said...

Uh. weird.
This is further evidence that there are many, MANY folks out there with no concept of boundaries, be they physical, emotional, or psychological.

This kind of situation just exhausts me, Carmi. You were definitely more gracious than I would've been. I probably would have assured her that her family had been photographed, and that I was now taking pictures of other people.

I'm not known for my diplomacy skills... :-)

Pamela said...

I would have asked her for her address so I would know where to send the bill.

(actually I don't know what I would do.)

Lori Schmidt (LoriProPhoto) said...

I dont know how i would have responded!! But I do know that I have stopped taking my camera with me to family functions, it becomes expected after a while and it is not a hobby for me it is work and I dont want to work on my days off, I would rather let my other family members snap away with their little point and shoots. Then again I dont have a large family andmy side of the family are on the other side of the world, literally!

Tracey9AD said...

That happens to me all the time. Most of the time when I leave the camera at home people get angry. I don't know why...I never send them the pictures anyway.

Prego said...

Dude, I would have followed her around the next hour or so like Mapplethorpe after a sweaty black man.

As a fellow social documentarian, I understand the politics and pitfalls. Though it's the only way I really entertain myself at most functions, it with a high degree of chafe.

What really creases me is when they ask for an email of the pictures and then fail to send a kind reply, such as "Beautiful! Thanks!"

On the other hand, while snapping away at a friend's wedding I caught a nice shot of a family of complete strangers. They must have gotten a copy of said photo, because the following year I ran into them at another wedding and the dad chased me down and told me how much the family liked my photo and would I be kind enough to take another. That was pretty cool...

Then there's the bride to be... I offered to do engagement shots "for freeeeeeee" (See Bedtime Stories. She proceded to ask me if I could digitize a few kgs off of her chunky a*s*s. (Heh... get a treadmill, toots.) That was the last attempt at going pro.

I'm with you on the snap-happiness, but as always, you put me to shame in the social graces arena.

Happy New Year, bro.


Tracie Nall said...

That is so crazy! Sitting here at my computer I am thinking of all sorts of snappy comebacks that would have put her in her place....but in the moment I know that I would have just been in shock. I think you handled it with a lot of grace. Better than I would have.