When I was in grade thirteen, I was the editor of my high school yearbook. That meant I was offered a week at a journalism camp held at Trent University. There, I learned everything I needed to know about yearbook layout, design, content, and photography.
One of the lessons I remember most from that week was the advice we were given about taking pictures. Most photographs, they said, are taken on sunny days and with everyone smiling at the camera. And that kind of photo is nice. To capture a more complete picture of your high school, however, you will need to do more than snap posed groups of people in fair weather.
Take your camera out in the rain and snow, they said. Go to the corners of your school that are not usually on display. Learn to become invisible so that you can take photos of other students when they are deep in thought, practising the trumpet, or playing cards in the cafeteria. Those are the photos that will make your yearbook terrific.
I can’t say whether or not our yearbook ended up being terrific, but I do know that the photo advice was brilliant. The sun is not always shining at important moments. “Say cheese” does not always induce the most genuine smiles. Sometimes the unexpected, unposed shots are the best.
Too often, instead of capturing our lives as they really happen, we tidy ourselves up. We put on fresh lipstick, straighten our tie, and make sure everyone is standing all in a row. That it leaves us with stilted photo albums full of familiar faces, but little else. Much of the richness of life–the mess, the hilarity, the spontaneity–are left out.
Some of my favourite photos are not posed, nor is anyone saying, “Cheese!”. Instead there is surprise at a birthday party, someone walking in the rain, a child talking earnestly to his favourite stuffed animal. This is the length and breadth of life, and I want to remember it.