Look­ing into a fad­ing tra­di­tion

The tra­di­tion of tak­ing fam­ily por­traits is see­ing a tremen­dous change


Sea­soned por­traitist Sara Black be­lieves that tech­nol­ogy has ir­re­vo­ca­bly molded civ­i­liza­tion, with pho­tog­ra­phy as one of its most rad­i­cal agents. “Peo­ple now pre­fer to take their own pic­tures, even just with their phones, to post them then tag each other on­line and be con­nected that way,” she says.

Some­how, the prac­tice of get­ting fam­ily stu­dio por­traits taken, es­pe­cially dur­ing the Christ­mas sea­son, now feels about as quaint as an old, tat­tered, sepia pho­to­graph. In her 13 years as a lens­man, Black says she sees less and less fam­i­lies par­tak­ing in the tra­di­tion be­cause pho­tog­ra­phy has be­come so ac­ces­si­ble.

Photographer and videog­ra­pher Tammy David agrees. With more user-friendly equip­ment, peo­ple are now more tech-savvy and de­velop pho­tog­ra­phy skills on their own. Even the once ar­dent Western­ers, who are fond of the tra­di­tional fam­ily por­traits, are veer­ing away from the prac­tice. By the least, they would rather re­sort to send­ing e-cards, David says.

She re­calls that, as a kid, rel­a­tives who were based in the States would send Christ­mas cards with fam­ily pho­tos in­cluded where every­one in the pic­ture wore match­ing sweaters or their Sun­day’s best. Th­ese days, even David’s own fam­ily no longer con­forms. She says they would just rely on the cam­era’s self-timer func­tion and sim­ply print the pho­tos. Rem­i­nisc­ing the good old days, David re­calls, “when I was younger, fam­ily por­traits were im­por­tant so I have some­thing to show for as­sign­ments in school. I like look­ing back at how my fam­ily used to spend Christ­mas to­gether even when I was an angsty, unattrac­tive teenager. Christ­mas por­traits are al­ways good for re­mem­brance.”

But she says there are still a few fam­i­lies that de­vi­ate. Pro­fes­sion­ally-taken hol­i­day por­traits haven’t be­come ob­so­lete, thanks in part to the Kar­dashi­ans who os­ten­ta­tiously per­sist with the tra­di­tion. Fans await their an­nual Kar­dashian Krist­mas Kard, which they’ve been re­leas­ing since the late ’80s and serves as a vis­ual marker for how the clan grew through the years.

“I still know some peo­ple who pre­fer the old­fash­ioned stu­dio set­ting,” David says. “I see more well-done images now in dif­fer­ent so­cial plat­forms like In­sta­gram and Face­book. There are still a hand­ful who hire pro­fes­sion­als or go to mall stu­dios to have their por­traits taken, with the par­ents still fram­ing the prints and putting them atop the piano.”

In hind­sight, David says tra­di­tions seem to have changed on the sur­face level but their essence stays. “Enough with the white shirt, blue jeans, and bare­foot look, but if fam­i­lies are happy to see them­selves por­trayed that way, or in com­plete for­mal wear with hats, then great. [The bot­tom line is,] Christ­mas por­traits are al­ways good for re­mem­brance.”

Photographer Janine Uy, who spe­cial­izes in new­born, fam­ily, and boudoir shoots, also says fam­ily por­traits are still pop­u­lar es­pe­cially dur­ing the -ber months. Work­ing be­hind the cam­era, she sees the im­por­tance of this tra­di­tion. “I wish all fam­i­lies make it a point to have their pho­to­graphs taken. Pho­to­graphs are for­ever, and you will want to have some­thing to look back on years from now— some­thing to show how your fam­ily has grown and changed through the years.”

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