Jonathan: THREE, TWO, ONE.
Wait. Hold up the proton blaster...right...and...turn to the light.
Dustin's Mom: Oooooo! Let me see those pearls! Yay! Who ya gonna call?
Lucas's Mom: Adorable baby! Just adorable.
Erica: You are SUCH a nerd.
Lucas: Shut UP!
Erica: No wonder you only hang out with boys.
Lucas's Mom: Erica!
Erica: What? Just the facts....
Lucas's Mom: Oh my god I love this costume.
Mike: Alright, that's the last one.
Mike's Mom: Nooo. One more please?
Mike: Can I go to school?
Mike's Mom: Wait wait wait. Ok. Say....who ya gonna call?
It's the year 1984 and the morning of Halloween in the small fictitious town of Hawkins, USA. Four friends are each having their photograph taken before leaving for school. Dressed in the same costume of utility suit, proton pack and proton blaster, they resemble mini versions of the spirit busting team in the film Ghostbusters.
Jonathan wields a professional looking Pentax SLR. He directs his younger brother Will to hold up his proton blaster and turn 'to the light'. Bam. A picture. Jonathan is right to ask Will to turn towards the light. There's no flash on his camera and that house always seems terribly dark and gloomy. The smile captured on Will's face belies the terrifying ordeal he's been through in the first series of Stranger Things. It's small wonder he can smile at all.
Dustin's up next. His Mum urges him to show her 'his pearls'; the baby front teeth that have now grown in and filled the gap so charmingly visible in Season One. She screams with delight as he beams into the camera.
Lucas poses like a superhero in his family's front yard. Using a Kodak Instamatic, his Mum calls out words of encouragement. By her side, his little sister Erica stands. The antithesis of all the adoration his Mum heaps upon her son, Erica observes and comments on the frivolity with a disdain that reveals so much about her relationship with her older brother.
The fourth boy in the friendship group, Mike, is unimpressed at having his photo taken. Reluctantly he stands his arms hanging loosely at his side. Frowning, he glares at his Mum. Sensing his objection to her activity she coaxes him to stay still for one more picture, "wait wait wait". Her cry of "Who ya gonna call?" is the final humiliation. For once Mike is keen to get to school.
Family photographs and the language of persuasion
I love this scene as it says so much about family photography. To begin with three out of the four people taking the photographs are the mothers of the boys. The fathers are absent from these family moments, a reflection, perhaps, of the series as a whole where the paternal figures are rarely seen. If they are, they are less than positive role models.
And then there is the language of persuasion. Turn. Smile. Wait. One more. Adorable. I am definitely guilty of using similar language when I see a picture I would like to make of my own daughters. I see an expression, an arc of light...Hold on! Wait. Don't move. Hold it there. Lovely. I try to soothe them with my words as they become more self-conscious. Inevitably the picture I get is a blurry hand held up to the lens while an emphatic NO! is shouted directly at me.
If I don't say anything, if I sneakily make a photograph of them while they're not looking, I'm left loving the photograph but in the back of my mind, there is the niggling question of my intention. I'm a photographer that has made many photographs of my children editing them into a series which I considered to be of artistic worth. But I have since become aware of how I might unconsciously direct those images. That actually the photographs are not about them. They are not portraits. My photography of them is a process of how I want them to be seen. I reveal little about them. Their faces are often hidden, turned away, anonymous. I am thinking right now as I write this of how I want to protect them from a world of intrusion.
Small paper envelopes
Back in 1984 taking a family photograph was a pretty singular event. Camera film was expensive. Then there was the cost of processing and then the wait to pick up your packet of 6x4 inch prints. The anticipation of that small paper envelope containing 24 or 36 pictures was always exciting and often disappointing. Wonky horizon lines, red eyes blazing from the flash, bleached out faces, wide-angle distortion, an unfortunate head decapitation, a blurry thumb in front of the lens. I loved getting back my photos. I loved to sift through them with my friends, laughing at some, giving away others and chucking the worst away.
Rarely did an occasion require more than a few pictures. A wedding is an exception. A birthday meant maybe two or three with at least one of these being of the cake. It was often necessary to edit the pictures you might want to take before actually taking them. At art school, they had a word for it 'pre-visualisation'. A failed photograph was a wasted opportunity.
Oh, how things have changed!
Our audience has expanded. It's become necessary to improve our photographic ability. There's so much at stake. Our online profile is formed by our likes, comments, photos and opinions. With an audience ready to remark on all your images you need to make better pictures. You need to become a better photographer. But have we? Have we become better photographers? Or have we become better editors? We can quickly weed out the rubbish, delete the banal, photograph ourselves when nothing else will do. We definitely take more photographs, this practice in itself will create more skilful images.
The family album
So what's the point of all of this? What does the family photograph mean for us today? Our desire to document our loved ones is stronger than ever. But the way we can photograph ourselves is different. We no longer have to rely on the skill (or not) of another to make a half decent portrait of us. We can select the right light, the right side and make the picture ourselves.
A few weeks ago someone mentioned to me how few photographs we have of ourselves growing up. And by 'we' I mean people in our 40s. The awful ones have been relegated to the back of a cupboard or hidden in a box. In 2017 those awful photos, the ones you would rather see buried underground, can be shared and shared and shared. Our sense of ourselves, who we are, how we feel, how we want to reveal ourselves to the world is under scrutiny. Let's hope we have the mental health to cope with it.
The screenshots are taken from Netflix series Stranger Things 2, Episode 2: Trick or Treat Freak