In Praise of the Annual Portrait
At the risk of sounding like I’m trying to create business for myself, I want to say a word in favor of the idea of having a formal portrait done every year of one’s life.
We’re all familiar with the idea of the school portrait – every spring, year after year, every boy and girl has their picture taken for the yearbook, and parents get an order form with packages labelled A through ZZ. We all know what these look like. Color, with the child staring straight at the camera. Ok, so that’s actually a good one. More often the child is wiping their eyes or yawning or sneezing or… anyway, we’re all on the same page here. We all know what I’m talking about.
But what I want to encourage is the idea of a “real” portrait. Now, my metier is the fine art portrait. But as it goes, I think the vendor with a room down at WalMart is just as good for this purpose. There are plenty of in-between options too, from some of the more upscale portrait mills to some smaller studios. And if you live in a vibrant art community, it shouldn’t be difficult to find an art student or an extremely talented amateur who is willing to do the job for not much cash. And for really big years, sometimes it can be nice to splurge.
Now, timing. There is something to be said for the birthday portrait. Or the Christmas portrait (and no, I’m not talking about Santa at the mall. But there are some other options that may be useful, especially when you’re thinking about more than just one person being in the portrait – when you start thinking of a family.
If an annual portrait is a new tradition you’d like to start and your family is already complete (that is, you’re not expecting any more kids to come along), it can be nice to choose a month when noone is having a birthday to have your family portrait. That way if you have your kids’ portraits done around their birthdays, there will be a second time during the year that you’ll know their image is being recorded. Since a lot of families use their portraits for Christmas cards, this can lead to a late-fall portrait being done each year. Of course, it might also be nice to do one in the spring, so that your family is being recorded twice each year.
If the idea of an annual portrait occurs to you in the first years of marriage, your wedding anniversary can be a nice time to have a portrait done of the two of you. Then, as other family members come along, you will know just how your family appeared when you had been married for four years, or nine, or thirty.
The details aside, the important thought here is to have these portraits done. A portrait is something you cherish as soon as it is made, and then its emotional value is enhanced as the years pass. And when there is a periodic record of your growth as an individual, of the growth of your family, of the growth of your children, the value of the whole record is immeasurable. And just think of how much your children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren will value a record of your or your family’s entire life.
I imagine I will have more thoughts on this in the weeks ahead, as my own family (families, really) being considering our next group portrait. But for now, I will end with this one thought – even if you’re a septagenarian, even if the kids are already grown and gone, it is never too late to start. Even a partial record of your life is a legacy that will be treasured forever.