One Serious; One Silly

“Can I hold the bus?”

The privilege of holding the bus having gone to the fastest requestor, the rest gaggle up quite quickly, posing against one of the bleak concrete walls of the Canadian War Museum. Considering that it’s for a picture on behalf of someone they don’t know at all — me — and a cause they have no reason at all to care about — my campaign for an appointment to the Senate (hence the bus) — these munchkins look to be good sports.

As I crouch down for the more interesting shot, I wonder exactly when teenagers started looking like munchkins to me, and whether I will be able to get back up without grunting.

Teenagers posing for serious shot.

The Serious Shot

As the phone cameras finish their first round, one of the gaggle asks, “Now the silly one?”

They get the nod from their chaperon — my former colleague, in town with this school band from Alberta — and these polite-looking teenagers release their inner silly.

Teenagers posing for the silly shot.

The Silly Shot

I continue taking pictures, because this is part of the deal: A deal now so standard it doesn’t require negotiation every time.

One serious; one silly.

When did that become the protocol for taking pictures of kids?

Not back when a photograph required both a professional photographer and a long exposure, dictating infrequent, posed shots. Then the protocol was for serious, not to say blank, facial expressions that could be held for a long time without moving.

Black and white studio portrait of old couple in 1894.

Circa 1894

Not back when lots of families still didn’t own a camera, because they were expensive and complex to operate.  As weddings and anniversaries, first days-of-school and graduations, and Christmas were captured, the protocol was for line-ups and fixed smiles. And one take.

Black and white Christmas photo of Gibson family


Not back when my children were young and cameras were more affordable and easier to use, but film processing was still expensive. Candid shots came to rival posed ones in numbers, but the protocol still precluded anyone from deliberately ruining a photo by making a silly face. I mean, who would even have had that thought?

Young boy in candid pose with swing.


But sometime between Back When and Now, the protocol has changed, and long enough ago that even I know about it.

Digital photography was likely the driving force. Released from the need to pay for film processing by the roll, we were likewise released from the need to make every frame count.

Who knew that we’d discover that both serious and silly behaviours were of equal value in recording our lives?

One serious; one silly.

I wonder what photos I’d have of the old-timers — including myself — if that protocol had been possible Back When.


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10 Responses to One Serious; One Silly

  1. Tom Watson says:

    I’d hate to suggest that silliness just wasn’t in our nature…way back when…’cause that just ain’t the case.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Tom – Interesting, isn’t it? Without a photo, it’s easy to overlook that earlier generations were much as we are, with the the same range of emotions and behaviours, including playfulness. It’s a shame that our history (personal and otherwise) doesn’t record these activities that would put flesh on the bones.

  2. Jim Taylor says:

    I can’t help wondering how that “American Gothic” painting would be different if the farmer and his wife had been allowed a “silly”?
    Jim T

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim T – LOL! Yes, I wonder what they would have done. Maybe there’s a whole art form here, reimagining classic paintings and photos.

  3. Jim Taylor says:

    Okay, now a story. Years ago, I was taking a photo of a group of youth for a cover of The Observer. I must have taken most of a roll of colour film — scandalous waste! — and finally, on the last frame of the roll, we let the kids do it their way. Guess which one the art director chose….
    Jim T

  4. Judith says:

    Silly is the price we pay for being granted the serious one.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Judith – Indeed – I just don’t remember anyone having to negotiate with me for my serious photo behaviour. Times have changed!

  5. Wade says:

    Ah, the Gothic. Now that you got me started, off topic. Several years ago on Main Street in downtown Mesa AZ, we saw the tallest ever American Gothic statue/sculpture and took photos with friends in the picture. Here’s a Flickr link to the scene at the time with another dated sculpture in the foreground. It represents a wife bringing lunch to her husband, a service station owner in Mesa at the time (circa 1940s I believe). The tall sculpture hasn’t been back since, it’s on tour of the USA. . I had always considered the female to be the wife but another good friend emphatically states it represents his daughter. Wiki says either one. in any event, no silly in that one.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Wa(Oh, look, a chicken!)de – I wonder whether anyone took a silly photo in front of American Gothic. Almost undoubtedly . . . If only one had time to track down all this stuff!

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