My sister in law, the mother of my godchildren, is mildly obsessed with documenting the life and times of her kids. My niece and nephew are one and three respectively and she has held at least four, maybe more, portrait sessions at one of those strip mall photography store fronts and has created multiple Shutterfly books for posterity. I have had the good fortune to accompany my extended family on two of the strip mall photography expeditions. And to be clear “good fortune” is defined in this case by my ability to blog about the experience.
On our most recent visit our manager was a frenetic fellow who behaved has if his bonus at stake. Each session requires two employees; a photographer and an assistant to coax smiles out of the wailing children. We began with my niece who, while not wailing, was slightly suspicious and was not inclined to smile just because there was a camera pointed at her with a strange woman dancing behind behind it. The manager jumped into our session to replace the assistant in no time. He wasn’t messing around. He had in his arsenal a well rehearsed routine that involved a stuffed kitty flying through the air, landing on someone’s head and flopping around. On at least one occasion the head was mine and Peppy, our over-caffeinated manager, paid no attention to my carefully coiffed hairdo. He proceeded to shuffle us around, using corny lines to manipulate the bewildered children. “OK, can you cross your legs for me? Criss cross applesauce” he said as he crossed my nephew’s legs for him as if he were a Gumby doll. I’m not certain, but I may have seen my nephew’s first eye-roll. If not I was internally eye-rolling enough for all of us.
When the time came for to the full family photo (in which I was included) the photographer began to position us. Just as we had assumed our places, Peppy returned from a smoke break to rearrange us. He sat the core family members in an simple arrangement and then asked me to sit on a large block behind them. The resulting portrait makes me appear to be some crazed family portrait crasher. We took several photos in this configuration and then I was dismissed. I was banished to the Lego table to sit with the families waiting while their anticipation turned to dread.
Once all the photos had been taken it was time for the sales pitch. The previously affable photographer morphed into a mildly pushy salesman right before our eyes. The sales pitch involves sitting in front of a computer screen while the salesperson begins to display the photos in a fashion not unlike the way the optometrist gauges your vision, but more quickly. “Which one do you like better? This one or this one? Is this one better or this one? Better or the same?” Once you have selected your photos you are obliged to chose the “Package” that you want, none of which really fit your desires. Oh, and did I mention that it is at this point that the children traditionally run out of steam and begin to meltdown. These places must make a mint while stressed out mother’s agree to purchase many more photos (mostly in useless wallet size) than intended.
As we drove off to have lunch, my sweet photo obsessed sister in law absolved me of the obligation to attend future portrait sessions.
Yeah, that is probably a pretty good idea.