They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but I say some are worth a few more.
I have covered many first days of school in my career with a camera in hand. One photograph that comes to mind is a child an hour before becoming a kindergartner standing on a stool to see into the bathroom mirror brushing his teeth next to his dad before embarking on a 13-year journey. Another is a photograph of a daughter hugging her mother before boarding a yellow school bus then the same daughter waving goodbye to her parents through the freshly slid down window of the bus.
I recall the kids always seem to take the first day of school better than the parents. I have walked the halls of schools on the first day and watched elementary students quickly run down the hall anxiously awaiting to hear what their friends did over the summer while the same student’s parents wipe tears from their adult eyes realizing their child is growing up.
While photographs of those moments were made by me watching a family go through the start of school rituals, my favorite photographs were not taken by me. My favorite photograph, simple at that, is actually a collection of photographs involving the first and last days of school.
The parents started by taking a photograph of their first child with his backpack on standing at the family’s front door to their home. The next photograph in series was nine months later. It was the same child in front of the same door, only now holding a 2-month-old sister. The next was the same child after the summer on the first day of first grade holding the same sister. The next was nine months later, only the sister was standing next to her big brother holding on to him on the last day of school.
You get the idea. Twenty-six photographs of one child from the first and last day of school in the same place with the same people from kindergarten to a senior in high school. The collection was finished a few years later as the younger sister graduated high school.
The parents had them framed and displayed in such a way you felt you could see the children grow up. In the case of their son, you saw 26 photographs – one with a missing front tooth, many with changing hairstyles, including one with a mohawk. The daughter was seen going from an infant to loving her big brother to the two teenagers standing back-to-back like, “Please get this over with.”
The door changed too. First the color, then the door as the family had moved, but one thing was constant in the photographs –the children, and they were growing up.
While the technique is not something you would see in National Geographic, it was the most important collection of photographs this family had. No other photographs in the world meant more. The photographs told the history of a family growing up and together.
The only other thing I wish was included in the photographs were the parents. I would love to see how they aged and changed as well.
As the first day of school approaches I want to challenge parents to take these photographs as well. The biggest instruction is keep up with them.
My suggestion is print the photographs out and put them in a safe place initially and store the original digital file somewhere you can find it. Then start to display them in your own way.
Another suggestion is to add a marking of the height of the children in the photograph on the frame of a door. My grandmother’s most treasured possession has followed her to three homes – one vertical piece of wood used as trim to a door in her home. It contains pencil marks, often made by her, marking the name, date and height of all her grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren.
Speaking of challenges, we here at The Outlook want to see your photographs from the first day of school.
You can send them to firstname.lastname@example.org with the names, ages and what school the children are attending. Who knows, they may end up in the paper and give you another first day of school keepsake.
We want to see your children posed in front of the front door, them running down the hall, brushing their teeth standing on a stool to see in the mirror and most importantly waving goodbye to you as they embark on their next journey in life.
Cliff Williams is a staff writer for Tallapoosa Publishers and father of a soon-to-be third-grader.