The Portrait Outtakes
My grandmother was an artist. She painted beautiful landscapes, but her real talent was portraits. She painted most of the our family members—my mom at age five, my mom at age seventeen, her mother, her father—and she painted strangers too. I remember walking into the student loan office at my college to see a giant portrait on the wall of the man the building was named after, and I did a double-take because my grandmother had painted it. She once traded a painting for my dollhouse, which was pretty sweet, but the portrait I remember best is the one she painted of me, when I was five years old.
It all came about while my grandmother and my mom were going through a cedar chest and found a pair of red velvet slippers that my mom had worn when she was a little girl. They had me try them on, they fit, and then, because my mother and grandmother were Texan women, we had to go buy a dress to match the shoes, and then once I had the whole ensemble I looked so damn fine they decided they had to paint me in the outfit, possibly right that moment. This is how it is for me every morning when I get dressed.
My grandmother hired a professional photographer to come to my parents’ house and take a billion pictures of me, hoping one would be the shot she would blow up and hang next to her easel and use as a guide for the portrait. I’d still have to spend many afternoons sitting for her, but she was smart enough to realize even the nerdiest, best-behaved five year old couldn’t hold a pose for as long as she’d need.
The photographer did a good job, but kept asking me to do totally lame things, like play with these fancy antique toys I never played with, or read my own blank diary, or touch a plant questioningly, like I’d never touched a damn plant before. If a five year old thinks you’re being lame, you are hopeless. But I was a good sport, at least for the first few hours, until I got sweaty and bored and crabby, which you are about to see.
The winning pose didn’t come from this photo session. It came from another photo, on another day, with a completely different background. Which she abandoned and instead created her own fake background. When she finished, she called us to her studio to view it, and my mother made her black out my missing bottom tooth she’d painted in. My mother, she likes the gritty realism, as you can tell by her outfit in the above picture.
Anyway, while I was home last month, I found the box of outtakes from this photo shoot, and this provided my family with an entire evening of cheap laughs. Especially my brother, who if my grandmother had lived long enough to paint, would have surely been captured thusly.
I give to you: The Portrait Outtakes.
I know all you’re going to do is talk about my mom’s hair because that’s all you people ever do.