Last year, my older brother graduated from law school. I don’t remember if he’d secured a job by then. Knowing him, my guess would have to be that he had. Anyway, early on a Friday morning, my parents and I made the four hour drive from New York to Boston for his commencement ceremony. Thinking I might get a choice Instagram post out of day, I brought my camera.
Sometime before the call to find our seats, I took it out and used the digital viewfinder to take picture of the four of us. I can only imagine how ridiculous that must have looked: me, holding a giant DSLR camera up in front of us like an iPhone. But the photo we got from that day wasn’t half bad. There’s an embarrassing six year gap in our family photos, starting when my parents crossed over into that territory of adulthood where technology apparently stops making sense, and ending when I got my first camera in college and starting documenting again. It was nice, having a photo like that of all of us.
I sent this picture to my parents sometime later, thinking they’d like it since both of them regularly update their phone backgrounds with pictures of my brother and me. Summer passed without notice and I forgot about the whole thing when I left for school that fall.
The real surprise came when I returned home for Thanksgiving and they showed me into the living room. They’d gone to a framer, had the photo blown up to the size of a three foot canvas, and hung it up on the wall. Having moved in only a few years ago, there was ample space in our house for new mementos. Obviously, they’d thought it would be a nice addition to the framed family pictures we already had.
“Isn’t it nice?” I was asked, upon seeing it for the first time. I didn’t answer. I was too busy seeing my forehead as I had never seen it before, two feet wide, now the biggest thing in our living room. That same forehead that I hid with bangs up through middle school and prayed to Santa (we weren’t raised religious) to make smaller every year. It was mortifying.
I hadn’t left the room to unpack before I’d started coming up with ways to destroy it. Maybe I could knock it off the wall, or spill something on it. I was already the clumsy one in the family. My mother used to scold me with “S.A,” when I was younger. “S.A.,” of course, meant “self-awareness,” shortened because she had to remind me to use it so often.
I hated that picture for a while, persisting for a few months. But I realized one day, when my parents were showing it off to some friends, that even though my face took up practically half of the frame, it really wasn’t about me.
“He took this with his new camera,” my mother would say excitedly, “Real, happy smiles — that’s how you can tell it was a good day.”
That photo probably means more to my parents than anything else in the house. My brother and I were practically adults. It was the first picture of us where we weren’t children anymore. After so long without any nice photos of us, I bet they appreciated having one now.
The big, blurry top half of my face is now the first thing anybody talks about when we have guests over. The centerpiece of our living room wall, next to our piano, is a selfie. I have since spent so many evenings reading on the couch across the room from my bulbous, out of focus face that I’ve forgotten whether I should cry or laugh when looking at it.
Those are my parents, I suppose. I have had a camera for about two years and they’ve already framed three of my photos, also insisting that I sign each one.
“To sell when you’re famous,” my father would say.
I never ask them why me being famous suddenly makes these framed photos marketable merchandise instead of honored family memories, but the gesture, as I’ve come to accept, never fails to make me smile.
My parents were far better photographers than me when they were younger, but I’m getting there, hopefully. And while I’m thankful there are so few photos of me at chunky, acne-ridden fourteen, when my hair was two feet wide because I hadn’t yet discovered hair gel, I’m also thankful I have a bit of a new role as the family photographer, documenting our new memories, knowing another one might just end up framed on the wall.
I guess someone has to do it.
Jinwoo Chong is a rising junior in the College. Party of Four appears every other Monday.
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