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Picture This: Our First Family Portraits

Ten days ago, we, as a family, took part in that sacred ritual of families: portraits. Having had the opportunity to live in a handful of countries, I can attest this tradition is rather widespread. Once a privilege of the monied and powerful who could spend hours sitting for a painter, hanging images of family members on the wall – be they important, notorious, or otherwise – is now ubiquitous. Means has still played an important role in the frequency or fanciness of said portraits, but step into just about any home and there will be some visual representation marking time and telling the story of the “us” residing there.

Now it was our turn.

Just like we drew it up. Except not.

Earlier this year Ray Ray and I celebrated ten years together. In April of 2009 we had our first kiss at the front door of her apartment and we haven’t looked back, at least in the symbolic sense. We have taken scores of pictures together and have looked back on them frequently. Despite our itinerant circumstances, we have always had picture frames on tables and walls to remind us of special moments and events. Having gone from a duo to a trio, it became necessary to mark time once again, not to mention create the kinds of Christmas gifts family (read: grandparents) love.

In that spirit, we hired a friend who is incredibly talented with a camera and editing software. Since arriving, we have seen her handiwork on display in the homes of other embassy families and decided she would fit the bill nicely. We decided to make Jen’s job slightly easier by selecting a familiar backdrop: the beach. El Salvador’s beaches are lovely and, because the country runs East-West, sunset landscapes are magnificent. However, due to the country’s proximity to the equator, sunsets – and sunrises for that matter – happen quickly. They don’t linger. Therefore, timing was an important factor.

Magic hour working its magic.

We decided a 4:30 p.m. start would be sufficient and drove for just over half an hour to get to the beach location we wanted. After a nifty parallel parking job among a cluster of ramshackle beach houses and huts occupied by surfing tourists who care much less about their accommodations than the quality of their waves, we made our way to where water meets terra firma. Immediately Jen warmed up, shooting candids and getting a feel for the light, which became the fourth member of the photographs. We hoped to conduct the bulk of the shoot during “magic hour,” that time where sunlight spills over everything and gives it a golden look. Indeed, many a movie scene has been subject to the tyranny of magic hour.

But that tyranny pales in comparison to that of a toddler who doesn’t give a damn about your perfect pictures and just wants to play in the water. So while Jen was getting a feel for the light, Luca was getting a feel for his cranky pants. Despite our best efforts to deploy every fun-sounding diversionary tactic we have learned in our short time as parents, nothing worked. The Big Man was there for one thing and one thing only: water. To onlookers, Ray Ray and I must have seemed like fist class boobs, hooting and clapping and talking to a child in octaves two or three times higher than we normally would. One thing was for sure: everyone knew Luca’s name as we chanted repeatedly, “Luca.” “Luca.” “Hey, Luca, look over here. Over here. Over here, Luca.”

Caption contest: What is this guy thinking?

Normally, playing in water might not be such a big deal, but Luca wanted to splash in a stream that flowed into the ocean from the very near edge of a wooded neighborhood. It looks harmless enough but knowing what we know about clean water struggles here, it might not have been the most salubrious waters in which to frolic. But such details mean nothing to a one-year old.

Try as we did, Luca simply screamed bloody murder whenever we tried to get him to pose for the camera. The only luck we had in getting him to look happy was when I stood far away and told him to chase me, which he did, with his back to the camera the entire way. When we stopped to try and pose, he wailed. I picked him up and he only wanted mom. Once passed to her, he suddenly wanted dad. Rinse. Repeat.

We finally gave in and just let him start playing in the river he so badly wanted to inhabit. Then, joy. Happiness. Smiles. Pictures. The poses were a little awkward as he immersed himself while Ray Ray and I only dared dip our feet. Luca became instantly a soggy and sand-speckled mess, which is apparent in some of the photos, but it worked, and we flowed with it as best we could.

And then there was the stick. Oh, the stick. It might as well have been Excalibur and he King Arthur. Take it from him, even in the water, and the tyranny returned. He. Wanted. That. Stick. In fact, here’s a study in contrast: stick taken, and stick returned.

Magic hour, like my tolerance for whining, passed quickly and it was soon time to pack up and head home. We made our way back to the huts and ducked in for a quick diaper change. Luca soaked up what seemed like a quarter of the ocean and we had to tap the emergency clothing stashed in the diaper bag. Fools that we are, we assumed all would go according to plan, one that did not include us getting wet. So, unfortunately, we had to ride home in sandy and somewhat damp clothes. Convey that pleasure in a photograph.

A brief moment of calm.

In all, though, the results are phenomenal, more because of Jen’s talent and wizardry than anything we did. She took more than 1,600 photos, a record for her, I believe. I’m not surprised. Given Sir Cranky Pants’ mood, her best tactic was to simply hold the trigger and pray for the best. She whittled it down to a few hundred, and then we shaved it down to the final prints, some of which you’ve seen in this post, and some of which can be found in the gallery.

And just like that, we have joined the ranks of millions of families before us who decided to mark their trajectory in photographs. It will be, I assume, the first of a handful of times we do this. Though next time, we might just find a nice spot in the back yard.



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