Thursday, December 23, 2010

How you, too, can ‘get the shot!’

I guess, yes, I’m feeling proud to the point of being full of myself, having been awarded for the seventh year in a row the Palme d'or for Best Homemade Christmas Card – Cute Kid Category 2009.

It’s been a remarkable run for me – this prestigious award, given each January by the Best Homemade Christmas Card – Cute Kid Category Foundation, which I founded seven years ago with merely one cute kid and one camera.

The Foundation has since grown by roughly three feet, 12 front teeth, and 7.3 megapixels. ...

I don’t know, maybe the spirit of Christmas and far too many Yule-tide highballs are still working their way through my system, but I’m thinking it’s time I share a few tips on how I do what I do. So here goes.

The quest of any big-time, cute-kid Christmas-card photographer such as myself is twofold: The first is to achieve what I like to call “aesthetic awesomeness,” and this can only be done through what I like to call “factual misrepresentation.”

For instance, this year’s card shows the Foundation’s flagship cute kid with his sled smiling (the kid is smiling, not the sled) and captures that seminal moment of childhood and magical wintertime wonder. To all those on my Christmas card list (whom I like to call “authorized agents,” under the terms of Certified Mail), I’ll betcha three Snickers Bars and a 16-ounce Dr. Pepper that you cannot NOT stare at this image and smile till your face hurts. In fact, I receive many, many responses to my work each year in the form of homemade Christmas cards from friends and family featuring uncute kids looking miserable, which I know is their way of congratulating me on my work.

But allow me to take you through the photo shoot that brought you this year's award winner. What's truly brilliant is the unadulterated misrepresentation of the facts surrounding it. For instance, no one could possibly know it, but amazingly, my cute kid was having a dreadful day. He hates sledding. He was "starving" (his word). His extremities were "frozen" (my word). He called my camera a "stupid rectangle." But, truthfully, my lens won't take failure as an option.
So, what did I do? I made haste. I placed him on his sled. I grabbed my camera. I framed the shot, and then (and this is what separates me from the also-rans) I said, "OK, in three seconds I'm going to click the button, and then we're going to run to the car, and head to the nearest Mini-Mart where I'll buy you eight pounds of Gummi Bears, and then I'll let you watch the Disney Channel for 14 straight hours."
1 ... 2 ...  
Upon 3, he smiled like a ragamuffin in a Rockwell painting.

Did I get the shot? Does an escapee circus bear perform headstands in the woods? Of course I got the shot!

But the “Bait, Shoot and Bag” method is not my only trick. Indeed, heavily Photoshopped images can transform an otherwise unsettling image into something sublime. For instance, last year’s award-winner depicted my cute kid swinging a Whiffle ball bat with the boyish glee of Huck Finn smashing storefront windows in Hannibal. All’s I had to do was what I call “declutter” around the area on the receiving end of the bat. Easy! I simply replaced the neighbor-kid’s head with an actual Whiffle ball!

The previous year’s award-winner, titled “His First Fish,” depicted him on a dock down at Thompson Lake. As you all know, there are no fish in Thompson Lake on account of all the PCBs, so I did what I like to call “buy a halibut at Price Chopper and attach it to a cute kid’s fishing line.”

In the coming weeks and months, I’ll continue to share with you my amazing tips on how to create your own award-winning cute-kid Christmas cards, including how, through a mere extra 25 megapixels, you can break down a kid’s cuteness to the cellular level.

But first I need to give a shout out to the person who first inspired my work. Let’s just say it’s a family member whose name rhymes with “Hennifer.” Years ago I was attending her daughter’s First Holy Communion. Even though Hennifer's beautiful daughter spit out the Communion wafer, and even though the congregation gasped, and even though the diocese is still determining whether the incident constitutes an ecclesiastical crime, two weeks later I received an absolutely handsome photo of the young child taken after the ceremony. She was in front of the church in her beautiful white dress and veil, and with lovely spring flowers in her hair. 

What can I say? The child looked like St. Bernadette at the grotto of Massabielle!

I thought, “Wow! While the lens doesn’t lie, it certainly tells fibs! … Whoppers, in fact!”

For me, it was an epiphany.

Anyway, bye for now!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The boy we never knew

Even in winter, when the snow stacks up in hard, mulish mounds, footprints lead to that one particular gravesite.

We see the prints. We walk this route regularly. In winter, it's a desolate place. Only a few souls visit, taking gingerly steps in the wicked wind. In the fair-weather days of today, by virtue of the fact this graveyard is a rare piece of flat land in a hilly region, this acreage becomes the de facto village park.

This is where seniors walk laps around the perimeter; local history buffs rub gravestones and search out family names; and parents engage in that seminal activity of teaching their children to ride bicycles.

But back to that grave site. His name was Eric. He died from leukemia on Nov. 28, 2004, before his fourth birthday. We didn't know him. We don't know his family. ...