pieces of my memoir

You Don’t Have to Smile

I’m toying with the idea of a memoir eventually, just for myself. Rather than scratch little memories in notebooks that will get lost, they’re going here.

In Paris last year, I raised my camera to snap a photo of my Grandma and cousin walking together, and my cousin squealed and ran away before I could press the shutter.

“Take a photo with your grandmother!” sighed my aunt.

Missing verbally, but still present behind her words, was the “Ugh! Teenagers!” sentiment. I watched Beth’s narrow shoulders tense together; mine did, too. She didn’t want to pose, and I wanted to take that photo even less. It is difficult enough to photograph someone who is requesting it; as a photographer, you’re asking for something from the person in front of the lens – even though it should seem like the reverse should be true – which is probably why I walk away from half my photo shoots and then scurry back, saying, “Oh, hey, one more thing. You need to pay me.” It feels like I’ve already taken so much.

I shuffled ahead, not wanting to hear the argument. A few minutes later, Beth slid alongside me. “You can take my picture with Grandma,” she mumbled.

“I don’t want to, hun, if you don’t want it.” I squeezed her shoulder fondly, trying to say she was understood. Our mothers are very different, but they are sisters, and I know well the grave emotional consequences of being “a daughter not doing what is asked”.

“No. It’s ok. Just take it.”

Being photographed was the easier thing for her to endure.

We stopped and they sat on a bench together; our grandmother put her arm around my cousin, who relaxed a tiny bit, and Grandma smiled.

“Smile Beth!” shrieked her mother. I lowered my camera and glowered.

“Shhh! I’m working here. And she doesn’t have to. Beth, you don’t have to. Just enjoy sitting with Grandma.”

My aunt backed down, our Grandmother continued to smile, and this was my shot.

I like it.


  1. Ben

    April 10, 2012 at 2:58 pm

    Non-smiles are always better than forced smiles. Great picture.

  2. misstraceynolan

    April 11, 2012 at 2:34 am

    Oy, that feeling like you already took too much thing as a photographer? I SO get that.

  3. KB {Tragic and Lovely}

    April 11, 2012 at 12:04 pm

    I like the picture, but like the story behind it more.

  4. Johanna

    April 15, 2012 at 5:38 pm

    From a former member of the Awkward, Gawky, Please Don’t Point That Fucking Camera At Me club (and possibly the president), thank you for sticking up for your cousin’s right to not smile. There are so many photos of me smiling with the mouth and looking miserable in the eyes from my youth.

  5. Emily

    May 9, 2012 at 5:57 pm

    I remember this like it was just yesterday.

  6. emily | nomnivorous

    May 10, 2012 at 11:35 am

    Amber, it sounds so corny but you could absolutely be the next Oprah or something of that nature.

    Teenagers everywhere could appreciate someone encouraging the world to be themselves, not force a smile or cheery attitude just because.

Leave a Reply