a peek inside the fishbowl

27 Nov, 2014

In defence of school photos

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Misc. life|parenting

Fourth grade me.

As someone who snaps an awful lot of photos of my kids, you might be surprised to learn that I secretly love school photos. And despite the fact that a part of me is annoyed at forking money over every fall, I keep doing it. Every year. There is one main reason for this: the posed portrait is a moment in history that’s worth keeping. It’s been so since the dawn of photography.

Photography has changed dramatically since the days of film, hasn’t it? Our eldest was born at the tail end of the film era. Mark and I took lots of photos, even before she was born. I remember how expensive it was, how careful I had to be with the images to which I committed a snap of the shutter. Rolls of 24 and 36, printed 5 x 7 WITH borders via a mail order service; it added up. (What can I say? I had high standards even back then.) The move to digital changed the way we take photos. We are no longer so discriminating. Continuous burst means hundreds of photos can be shot in one single moment. Suddenly, photographs weren’t reserved for holidays and birthdays anymore. This is how we accumulated thousands of photos documenting the lives of our children; not just on special days, but every other kind of day. Yet I still make room for the school photos.

The beauty in the school photo lies in the inconsistent consistencies that arise from year-to-year. On one hand, all of the photos have a few things in common: they are posed, with even lighting and backgrounds, kids facing the camera and sitting up straight. But that’s where the similarities end. The subject might be wearing a favourite outfit along with a smirk or a smile or a funny face. Or maybe the camera caught them by surprise. Maybe the hair got brushed that day, maybe it didn’t. Maybe the collar was itchy or the sleeves were dirty because of a playground incident. Maybe there’s a gap-toothed grin or first glasses or shiny braces. They mark the years, and children’s personalities, in a way I can’t quite give up on.

The prints become a tangible reminder of the passage of time. As those wallet-sized photos collect in our wallets over time, we are able to witness your children’s growth in a way that a scroll through thousands of digital snaps might not satisfy.

These are the photos that will linger in boxes and in scrapbooks, be tucked away in their respective envelopes and eventually divided up and handed down to our children’s children, I’m sure, amid exclamations and squeals of surprise. My kids marvel at my crazy punkish grade ten haircut and they appreciate the story that goes along with it. They find it hard to imagine a time when their father had long hair. We still laugh about how Mark fainted during his class photo one year, although I’m sure it wasn’t funny at the time. (The photo caught him mid-fall if you can believe it.)

I’m glad we have our school photos, and I’m sure they’ll be glad to have theirs too.

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4 Responses to "In defence of school photos"

1 | Misty Pratt

November 27th, 2014 at 1:42 pm


I fork out the money every year too :) Can’t resist how terrible some of them are!!

2 | Lynn

November 27th, 2014 at 4:07 pm


Aw, you’re adorable! Our school changed photography studios last year – they ditched LifeTouch and went with someone (Green apple? Or something like that?) that takes the photos digitally. Then, you can go online to order them and sub in about 300 different crazy backgrounds, as if your kid is on a beach, or at the Eiffel Tower, or in front of a brick wall. It sounds fun, but it’s awful, awful, awful – the photos themselves are just bad (whoever poses the kids is dreadful), and then the fake backgrounds – even things like simple grey – look totally bluescreened, with the noticeable border around your kids’ head.

It has killed my love for the school photo – we didn’t bother to order them. Even the class pics are blurry and low quality – just a printer printout, not even on real photo paper. Almost everyone at my school has fled to Walmart/Loblaws, but I can’t be bothered – we just abandoned it. SNIFF.

3 | andrea tomkins

November 27th, 2014 at 4:44 pm


No way Lynn! That sounds terrible. It must be a fundraiser for the schools. If enough people complained maybe they’d ditch the new company?

4 | Alison in Ottawa

November 27th, 2014 at 10:44 pm


Most years we need to go to the life touch retake day. They seem to have more time on retake day.

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The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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