A lot has changed in the tradition of school pictures since I was in grade school needless to say. Like digital cameras for starters. Also, when I was in school, you only had one photo taken once a year with the same background and pose. We dressed in our best, or rather what our parents deemed was best -- I mean, this was the ‘70’s were talking about folks, so ‘our best’ was very subjective and should be taken into account. Many months later, we would finally get our proofs to order from which we had to return so the orders could be matched up and then a few months after that, our photo package would arrive and most of them would be gone, swapped out with friends, before even getting off the school bus.
We did not have different poses to choose from and there were no retakes for the yearbook because you didn’t get yearbooks in elementary school. We did not have cute little magnets or bookmarks or trading cards and we didn’t have our names printed on our pictures. Our parents scrapped together and bought the big packages back then with plenty to give away to grandparents and family, display on walls and bookcases, and wallet sizes that were actually carried in wallets because that was the one and only time a year that most of us had “professional” photos taken documenting our youthful existence throughout our educational career. --And we sure as hell did not have to pre-order and pre-pay for photos yet to even be taken as is the policy with Lifetouch Studios - who received a nasty letter from me with my minimum order today, but I digress...
I remember many, many years ago on picture days at Cleveland Elementary School, we would all line up and march up with our classes to the third floor auditorium where all the school photo equipment was set up on stage. --The same stage my father, his siblings, and parents of most of the rest of my classmates had once strolled across when they had once upon a time graduated Cleveland High School. (Oh yeah, my Grandfather went there too.) The background for the vast majority of my elementary photos was always some seasonally-inappropriate artsy spring/summer woodsy medley (seen here) and a fake “fence” which we were posed against year after year in the exact same arm-crossed fashion (and me with my pinky finger dangling off the edge awkwardly as though it were broken, every single year) - as if leaning against a fence in the woods smiling like a dolt was the most natural thing in the world. But then again, it was the ‘70’s man, perhaps our school photographer was a hippy?
The absolute worst school photo theme ever in the history of school pictures was the “library / reading a book” look. This theme was shot in front of a comically unrealistic backdrop painted with bookshelves lined with books and required sitting at a desk with a colorfully illustrated kiddie book open (and held down by our hands so the pages wouldn’t flop around); that was 5th grade I think. O.M.G. did those suck a big one. I’m not even sure any of those still exist; I think I burned them all. --Oh, and then one year, 7th or 8th grade I believe, as we moved into a new decade of horrid fashion and tackiness, the creative directors of school photography in a brain-fart of inspiration keeping with the times, incorporated a high-back wicker chair into the setting. You know the ones. ...Actually, now that I think about it, I think they used the "library" background for that one too.
Yes, picture day always yielded a surprise because you never knew just what kind of God-awful tackiness they might spring on you next until you walked into the auditorium and got in line with your class. Just when we got used to the fence in the woods and all the photos in our homes matched, they went and got all crazy on us.
I honestly don’t think I have a single decent school picture of myself but then again, isn’t that the point? Everyone looks awkward and clumsy with freakish growth spurts, bowl-cut hairdos, and zits. Not to mention the ever classic deer-in-headlights expression that inevitably happens after shooting a couple hundred kids and the photographer is ready to get the heck outta dodge. Some of my school pictures could most certainly rival the DMV’s most memorable shots. And that’s pretty much why we buy those stupid things -- for the nostalgia and comedy. Few things are more fun than flipping through years worth of bad hairdos, bizarre clothing, and perplexing expressions. I mean, nothing says comedy like a snaggle-tooth smile in an obnoxious big-collared nylon Saturday Night Fever shirt leaning against a fence in the woods with a broken finger... except maybe posting those same pictures of your friends on Facebook. ;-)
"Most things in life are moments of pleasure and a lifetime of embarrassment; photography is a moment of embarrassment and a lifetime of pleasure."