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Jewish World Review Jan. 10, 2003 / 7 Shevat, 5763

Lenore Skenazy

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Consumer Reports

Don't smile for the camera | A 2-year-old was visiting our home the other day - clinging, crying, demanding juice then milk, no, JUICE! - and frankly, we found him fascinating. We simply could not remember any time that our own kids, ages 4 and 6, had ever been that horrid.

Er, young.

The 2-year-old's parents looked a tad peeved at our amnesia, until my husband, Joe, figured out the source of our self-satisfaction: "We took our videos at all the wrong times."

Bingo. If you look at the video record of our kids (bring some No-Doz), you will find a twosome so sweet, they could actually rot teeth. But you won't find real life.

Here they are pretending to toboggan through our living room, after a double timeout (not shown).

Here they are dancing to a Beatles song - after a half-hour, untaped, of Joe trying to get the CD player working.

And ah, just look at them there, stirring the brownie batter - with the camera expertly snapped off the second one started screaming, "You're licking too much!"

No, our family looks pretty perfect on film, as must yours, because if there's one thing we have all learned, it is what constitutes a Kodak moment: It is the moment our life most conforms, however briefly, to the way we'd like it to be. And it is about as reliable a record as a souvenir postcard.

"All families want to be seen as happy, friendly and successful," says Dan Gill, a freelance photographer. "However, these Kodak moment pictures are a far cry from our daily lives."

Not only do we instinctively reach for the camera only when our kids are acting like the ones on "The Cosby Show," often we wait until far-flung relatives have assembled and the house is clean and the dog isn't sniffing anywhere embarrassing. In this way, we create our own mythology of a perfect family.

Mythology? Yes, that's what you'll find between the covers of most family photo albums, says Arthur Dobrin, professor of humanities at Hofstra University.

A little history, here: In the days before photography and the industrial revolution, cultures passed down their myths orally: We are the people of the trees! Our chief is the son of thunder, etc. Everyone learned the same story about their collective ancestors.

But with the advent of photography, families were suddenly able to record their own individual history: This is our very own grandfather. We descended from him.

"Very few cultures present themselves negatively," says Dobrin. And neither do very many photo albums. They can't! The family's identity depends on it.

So in our pictures, "Children are always laughing and smiling. We also photograph ourselves loving and hugging," says Dobrin - including those of us who don't hug much. And of course, we photograph our great successes: graduation, marriage, the 30-inch striped bass.

When something goes wrong - say, a breakup - many are the miffed who will snip the discarded spouse out of the picture. There - that never happened.

Likewise, you won't find many portraits of loved ones sick in the hospital, or even sitting on the couch, watching reruns. That's not the stuff of myth. That's the stuff of real life.

The stuff that slips away.

Kodak moments may make us feel proud of who we are and where we come from, but they do a disservice to memory. When we don't have pictures of the toy-strewn house, mom in her bathrobe, grandpa drinking his soup, the life we really lived disappears. By the time we want to remember it, we can't.

We have gained a Kodak moment and lost the story of our lives.

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JWR contributor Lenore Skenazy is a columnist for The New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.


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