"Someday, if I ever get cancer and die, my kids are going to be upset that there are no photos of me."
As the family photographer, that was the argument I used to try and convince my husband to pick up a camera and include me in photos. He, possibly thinking I was being a tad over-dramatic about that cancer thing, rarely complied. Year after year, photo after photo, on family vacations, birthdays and Christmases, there are snapshots of him and the kids: opening presents, standing by a monument, or blowing out a candle. I am always implied (somebody had to have made that cake), but never in the shot.
Once, I even bought him a camera - an old vivitar one, supposed to be the easiest to use on the market, without all those fancy buttons and lightening bolts and things. Point and shoot, baby. I'm in.
It gathered dust in a closet before I eventually threw it away.
It probably didn't help my case any that on the one or two occasions where he did decide to take a photo of me, I squealed, "What are you thinking? My hair is a mess! I need lipstick on. Don't you DARE take a photo of me now!"
People are complicated. I want to be included but I always wanted to look my best.
I admire all the young kids who put these crazy, and sometimes unflattering, shots of themselves on facebook. No, not the ones where they are drunk, passed out and writing foul words on each other in Sharpie. But, the silly, zany ones which show their imperfect teeth and great senses of humor. They don't mind showing the world how they really appear, and I always have. The desire to appear perfect in a photo is a hard one to break, having been drummed into us repeatedly beginning with kindergarten school picture day and continuing on through your wedding - but today's kids break the rule routinely.
Well, my cancer threat came true, except for the dying part, of course. I've taken lots of photos of myself during this period, and if I had a less sensitive job, I might have posted more of them. I documented all the stages of my mastectomy and recon, and my baldness and hair regrowth, standing alone in front of a mirror with my iPhone. (If my phone ever gets stolen and they go through my album, that person is going to get a huge shock.) I am glad to say that cancer helped me get over the need to look perfect in pictures. When you are missing a body part, you have to give up the illusion of perfection. Still, I don't think I'll ever be comfortable with my image. I'm much prettier (and younger) inside my head then when I see myself in photos, I suppose. It's hard to reconcile the two images.
I was relaxing with my iPad one day, using Flipboard or Pulse, I forget which. both fabulous apps, by the way. I was browsing Gizmodo, one of my favorite tech sites, when I saw a contest by their new and extremely talented illustrator, Sam Spratt. You could win a portrait of you done by him for your facebook profile, and all you had to do is comment.
I don't enter a lot of contests - I already won the big prize, cancer, and figure you only get to beat the odds once. But, this contest intrigued me. I wanted to jump in the game, and leave my kids with an artistic memory of me, whether I die in five years or in fifty. How often do you get to be painted by somebody that talented?
Plus, I can comment like nobody's business. So, I did.
And, I won.
I couldn't have been more excited. Sam needed a high rez photo of me, in natural light, and fast. It has been raining for weeks here in sunny California and the natural light was the first hard part - my house is dark so it actually had to be done outside. I go to work in the dark and come home in the dark, so it had to be on a weekend. During a break in the rain, a week ago Saturday, I grabbed my youngest son off the computer and away from his homework, and told him to take some photos of me. I had it in my head I'd so something fun - having seen Sam's work I know it can be fanciful. But, frankly, I couldn't come up with anything and my impatient 13 year old wanted to get back to work. So, I just did a headshot and sent it to him.
A few days later (he works fast) my portrait was posted.
I love it more than I can say - this may be the first time my image was captured and I liked it. I love what he did with my hair and as it grows out, I know which direction to go. And, I think I'll be keeping it gray too. I think he made me a little more me, if you know what I mean? I have a very suburban middle-aged mom look, especially now, post-cancer. Yet inside I am anything but, and I think that snuck out in the illustration he did.
Plus, there is cleavage. You gotta love the cleavage.
So, Sam, if you ever read this, thank you again. It was an amazing thing to have, and I appreciate it. And, I still want to buy a high rez version so I can print it. I might actually put this one on a wall and be all vain and braggy about it.
Oh, and never doubt the power of Gizmodo. I work in a high school and I had kids coming up to me, asking if I was the person who was painted in the contest. Now I'm cool, too.
For more Sam, go here: Sam Spratt Illustrations
Friend him on facebook.
Follow him on Twitter.
His Gizmodo bio.
And, his tumblr blog.