Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Lights, camera, action

I love watching films and looking at photos of when my boys were babies, seeing my grown up six-year-old transported back to being a chubby baby marooned on a play mat, or singing "Three little men in a flying saucer". Or my four-year-old rewound to a long-past Easter, his face gluttonously smeared with chocolate, or to the day he learned to walk still holding one hand high in the air as if he couldn't quite believe he didn't need someone to hold his hand.

The only problem is that I can never remember or be bothered to actually shoot any footage or take any photos. It doesn't help that our camera's battery life is about a nanosecond, and that it is usually hidden away somewhere whenever I decide that I want to capture something for posterity. I also find it very hard to watch life through a prism. My family were never great ones for photos, for much the same reasons of disorganisation and laziness as me, and it came as a rude shock to learn that my father-in-law topped off every gathering with a painfully long photo shoot.

I still recall his last attempt to catch seven small boys aged from about six months to six perched on a bench in his garden. There was never a point when one of them wasn't crying, but he wasn't going to let that deter him. All the adults were gurning and jumping around like nuts to try to get them to smile, while the children looked on with concerned bemusement at this bizarre behaviour from their elders. I must admit the end result was more than worthwhile. A precious record of their childhood and a special family day, but I could never go through the pain of acquiring such a shot, I would prefer to rely on my, admittedly rather unreliable, memory.

When I had my first son we took literally thousands of pictures of him, and while I adore reminiscing as I watch these memories suspended on a computer screen, I am not sure we really needed second-by-second photo reportage of the birth. Thank goodness my husband stayed away from the business end or we would have ended up with a video nasty.

Indeed I haven't forgiven him for two particularly choice birth shots from my later babies. The first shows me splayed out on a bed, mercifully covered up, but with one enormous boob dangling out as it's suckled by a blood-streaked son number two. The second is of me in the recovery room after having the twins sliced out of my belly, I look like a beached whale with disturbingly waxy, pallid skin, piggy eyes behind my unflattering old glasses, a greasy slick of hair and the twins perched like plucked chickens in my flaccid arms. I am thinking they won't want a print of this one to stick in a silver frame on top of the mantlepiece.

My sister-in-law is a model, but even her post-birth shots are pretty disturbing. Before the birth she even managed to make the heart monitor belt look like a fashion accessory, after it she is as pale as her gown, apart from the deep, black circles under her eyes and looks rather shocked to be holding a baby in her arms. I suppose it should make me feel better that even a professional can't pull of a great photo within moments of popping out a sprog. But recalling the horror of my birth photos, it really doesn't.

Having given birth to the twins in the uber swanky Portland Hospital where the likes of Victoria Beckham, Billie Piper, Jools Oliver and (ahem) Jordan, had their babies, I discovered the secret to looking great post childbirth. If you've signed a deal with OK or Hello to show off your newborn, you can book an in-room make up artist and stylist to ensure you look perfect for your close up. There are brochures for this upmarket service in all the bumpf you are given when you book in. Still I would expect no less from a hospital that gives you a bottle of Champers when you leave, as opposed to a few left over cotton wool balls, which is all I took home after my NHS births.

I think family life is a double-edged sword for the photo phobic. While I adore having pictures and video of my boys, and would like to think that when they are grown up they can look back and see photographic evidence of how much mummy loved them, I hate, hate, hate actually being photographed. Looking at photos of me I have concluded that either I am ugly enough to scare the horses, or I am chronically unphotogenic. If I am not gurning or sinking deep into my many double chins, I am slumped in some ungainly slouch to best show off my unenviable collection of unsightly bulges. I am not sure my boys will look back that fondly on the minger standing next to them in all their childhood photos.

It is even worse when I have to do photoshoots for work, which mercifully I don't that often. I think the newspaper I write for has realised that using photos of me will scare off their readers, so now I rarely get asked to write anything that requires a photo to go with it. But in the far off days when I did have to be photographed for work, it truly was cruel and unusual torture.

Firstly there was the pain of being dolled up to look like the ideal representative of middle England, which usually meant being tugged into some shapeless pastel dress, having my hair teased into a latter day 80s BIG hair do and being caked in enough slap to make a WAG blanche. The first time this happened my oldest son took one look at me, and ran away crying that he wanted his mummy back.

Then there is the shoot itself. Normally I hide behind anything available while being photographed. Normally there is a well placed child or two for me to bob behind, so all you can see is a relatively inoffensive mop of hair, or the odd eye peeking out. But when it's you they want a photo of, there is no ducking behind an innocent pair of babies. And the shoots go on for HOURS, perhaps because it takes that long to get a halfway decent picture of me, but my God it's a painful exercise.

The only real advantage to all of this is sometimes I have been able to cadge a set or two of professional shots of the boys from the snappers, which is lovely as they are geniunely model good looking, even if I do say so myself. Unfortunately the last shoot I did was six-weeks after the twins were born when I was still post pregnant bloated. The twins, my husband and my boys all look gorgeous, but right in the centre of each shot is me, wearing some horrible cream get up that makes me look like a quivering vanilla blancmange in their midst. A job for Photoshop methinks.

Our photo collection is also a record of how I have failed in one of my many mothering goals. When I was growing up I used to really resent the fact that while my parents had tons of pictures of my older sister, there were none of me. Mind you thinking about what I have just written, perhaps this was for a good reason. Anyway, I decided that with my own children equality would reign supreme and I would ensure we had just as many pictures of son number four as we did of number one.

Well that didn't work. We have gigabytes of storage devoted to images of our eldest growing up, from the first shot of him slick with vernix and a cone-shaped head all squeezed out of shape by his recent journey down the birth canal, to him standing handsome and tall in his Year 1 school uniform. Numbers two, three and four have plenty of baby shots, taken when we had nothing better to do than stare lovingly at our offspring, but the coverage soon tails off and if we have taken a photo a month of the twins I would be impressed.

Still at least I can forgive my parents as now I know that the dearth of images of mini me isn't evidence of their negligence or lack of affection for me, simply that time runs out faster the more children you have and there just isn't so much of it to waste on niceties like taking pictures, however nice it is to look at them in the future. Either that or I looked just as bad as a child as I do now, and they were just doing me a massive favour by not recording my formative years.


  1. I recently went through and deleted all of the blurry and bad photos of Piran that I have taken in his first 8 months. There was a pang as I did so but that is just silly.

    We were given a voucher for a photo shoot thing as a present so we are off to have our pics taken this weekend. I am not looking forward to it at all!

  2. Good luck with the photo shoot. My mum bought me a voucher for one, which I conveniently lost!