I know that some people can size up a person pretty quickly by the way they dress and the company they keep. But, frankly, I think you never really know a person until you see what kind of vacation pictures they take. I mean, let's face it, when people go on vacation they bring back reams of film containing pictures of things that no one else in the whole world, and possibly the entire universe, would be interested in. For instance, when my friend Julie went to Europe last summer, instead of snapping photographs of the Louvre or the Eiffel Tower or Stonehenge, she brought back thirty-two rolls of cathedral ceilings. *Ceilings.* For the ten years I've known Julie I had never suspected that she was this passionate about stained glass.
And that's not all. My friend Linda, who has no children of her own, has three photo albums filled with pictures of her cats, all taken during her vacation in Venice. Now I've always been a big animal lover and all that, but this somehow just seems, well, wrong.
But one of the best things about these pictures, despite their obvious flaws, is that they can't help telling us a great deal about the people who took them.
So, that said, I shouldn't have been too surprised when I got the roll of film back from my five-year old son's first camping trip. I naively opened the envelope expecting to see pictures of the nightly campfire, the sun setting over the forest, and possibly even a deer or two.
But instead of all that, I saw an off center picture of tennis shoes. And not even HIS tennis shoes, mind you, but rather a pair someone had lost and left in the cabin. Mystery shoes. But that's not all. As I went through the stack, I also found my son had taken a picture of his sleeping bag, a penny he found in the gravel next to the car, a leaf, an orange sock, a bag of marshmallows, a close up of his father's ear, the tree outside his cabin from six different angles, a crushed snail, a burned hotdog, something blurry, the backseat of the car, a Power Ranger toothbrush, his thumb, a piece of gum, and himself.
There was barely a sign of nature in the whole stack. I couldn't help thinking that if he wanted pictures of assorted junk, it would've been cheaper if he had spent the weekend in the backyard taking pictures of the sandbox.
At least that is what I thought until I showed them to my friend Julie, the mother of three teenagers, who said simply, "There's nothing wrong with these." But of course, this is just the type of answer you'd expect from someone who photographs ceilings. Then she told me about the time her daughter went to Yosemite Valley and returned with dozens of rolls of film, all filled with photographs of the hotel, restaurant and gift shop. And about the time her son took his camera to a pro baseball game and returned with twelve-four pictures of cloud formations. However, I had a feeling she was just trying to make me feel better.
But, then again, to a five-year-old boy, finding a penny is more exciting than seeing a squirrel. And, for goshsakes, why would he waste his good film on something like, say, a herd of endangered water buffalo, when he could take a picture of cool tennis shoes? Or his shiny new green sleeping bag? Face it, things like beautiful sunsets and campfires can't compare to a bag of extra large marshmallows.
So I did what any good mother would do: I marked the date on the back of the pictures and slid them into our family vacation photo album -- right after the five pages of ice sculptures I took last year on our cruise to the Bahamas.