If the pithy phrase “A picture is worth ten thousand words” — or as Napolean once said “a good sketch is better than a long speech” — is true, then volumes have been spoken in recent years in capturing what a family looks like. This is especially true since the invention of the camera, and now the cell phone, that allows us to capture images of family members, historical events, and clips for “America’s Funniest Videos.”
What a picture, a photograph, an image, painting, or sketch conveys is what we want the world to see and note about us. Photographs can be used for us to freeze in time a moment we don’t want to forget, knowing that in years to come the image will bring up memories that we thought were long gone. For example, this past summer I took my grown children with me to Oregon to visit my parents, who are both in their 80s. To capture and commemorate the moment, high on my “things to do list” was taking photos of my entire family, children and parents together, smiling, and enjoying each others company. We now treasure great photos from that time, a moment captured in a few photographs that can be passed down to the next generation.
Photographs can also be used for sending a purposeful message. For example, with the recent death of Sen. Edward Kennedy, the public saw beautifully photographed images of the entire clan, with young Teddy on father Joseph’s lap. These images were not by happenstance: they were carefully orchestrated by Joseph Kennedy. Joe used the images to show the world how healthy, normal, and beautiful his family is, so that in later years these images could be used to show-off how much they were the paradigmatic family in Protestant America.
The power of photographs for remembering who and whose we are, as well as sending out a message about our families is very much in play these days as we find ourselves consumed by the issues of marriage equality, domestic partnerships, adoption, and non-discrimination in the workplace. As I move among websites, cable news television shows and their commercials, and read the newspapers, I am aware there is a “war of photos” going on around us, and they are powerful images. People against marriage and domestic partnerships for LGBTQ people are using an advertisement with a heterosexual couple embracing each other and talking about the fear that their children will be hurt for life when reading stories in first grade like “And Tango Makes Three.”
Of course, the couple is correct: images presented before us shape how we see, hear, understand, and feel about large parts of our lives, past, present, and future. Funny thing: I remember “Dick and Jane” books from first grade and their heterosexual parents, with their dog, Spot. I simply do not remember a book with “Jane and Jane” with their gay dads and their cat, Rex, yet I know my family is normal too, just like “Dick and Jane’s.”
All of these images remind me of how much we need to share not only our written stories, but especially a photograph book about our families, like “Love Makes a Family,” as well as see and show our families on television shows and YouTube. The more images of our families are “out” like us, the better the chance others will get the clear message, very much like Joe Kennedy did with the Kennedy family portraits: we are vibrant, beautiful, healthy and normal families. just like you, heterosexual America!