Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Picture Perfect

Jonsi nailed it. The post is brilliantly perceptive on many counts, but what really struck me was the observation made after a feverish photo-session of her newborn baby daughter by her NMIL that "she cared more about the photographs, than she ever would the people in them".

And there it is. The light-bulb moment that's been long coming. My narcissistic father's obsession with photographing people is about the photos. Not the people.

The people are there merely as objects of control, manipulation, and ownership. We are possessions. Or, perhaps even more aptly, we are prey, and the photos are his trophies. 

I've never seen my parents' wedding album. My father has promised to give me those pictures, which he keeps in the apartment that he's renting out. Nothing so far. He says it's just an envelope with a few photos anyway.

I've never seen a single picture of my parents together before I was born (well, conceived). They dated for 10 years and were then married for 12 more before they had me, so you can understand my confusion.

But there are 18 big albums full of photos that my father took of me during the first dozen or so years of my life. I only went through them once, when I was really, really idle. The pictures were just plain boring.

I used to think of those albums sitting on top of my bookshelf as irrefutable proof that my father's love for me was great, if somewhat disturbing. Those albums meant that whatever I did and felt for my father was bound to be insufficient and just plain ungrateful.

At one point, I rebelled against being photographed all the time, and also became intractable in other ways and just not as interesting any more, so the incessant photographing ceased. I have very few photos taken within the family after age 12 or so. The photos I have are ones I took with my own friends.

Then my mother died and my father found a new girlfriend. The obsessive photographing commenced once more. Album after album after album of his girlfriend, posing in front of different rocks or trees or buildings. The pictures don't get shown to many people. They seem to serve a different purpose. They imply ownership. Possession. Control.

They are also documents, evidence of his loving, caring ways.

Recently, my father became interested in my childhood pictures again. So he selectively started scanning some of them and giving them to me, portion by portion, in digital form. The latest installment was delivered in a solemn, official, gala setting, where they had to be seen by my entire FOC with his running commentary.

For the first time, I saw these pictures for what they were. And I felt sorry for that lonely smothered controlled little girl in them. No family or friends or people having fun together. Just me, isolated from everyone else, playing alone somewhere outside, where he'd lovingly taken me for a looong walk "with him". But he only smoked and took photos of me during these outings. I was really on my own. "This is you, smiling. Look how happy you are!" "This is where I took you to park x. Park y. Park z. The zoo." "Here you are petting a dog. A cat. A goat. Look how happy you are!" "Here you are climbing a tree. Playing in the grass. Playing in the sand. Look how happy you are!"

The only times there were other people in the pictures, it's his narcissistic FOO, posing around me with big, fake, eery smiles. You can see Little Pronoia's not buying it and her body language indicates polite efforts not to flee from these creepy people who pretend to be close to her.

When I went to my ILs' the next time, I told my husband: "Give me an album. Any album." He handed me one. "This is what a family album looks like. Look. Fun moments. Funny moments. People enjoying their time together. Celebrations. Get-togethers. Not a trophy pet child objectified incessantly through the lens of the camera. And serving as documented proof that her father was perfect."

Picture perfect, in fact.

But I'm free. My father recently came to see me on my birthday. He then sent me photos from the "party". There wasn't a single picture of me. He already stressed this fact in the subject of the e-mail, which went something like "Photos from your birthday without you in them!" His girlfriend later explained that the pics with me in them turned out all blurry. I guess he didn't want to give that explanation because he thought I might feel sad or hurt by the very unexplained absence of my photos and interpret this as being out of his favor. He was probably disappointed with the lack of such a reaction.

But I did have an emotional response to this. It was one of relief. I was no longer his focus.


  1. Glad you managed to escape that control! I feel for the Little You in those pictures. My mother has albums and albums of photos, mainly of me and my sister. I used to think that it was just becuase she loved us. Now I think it's becuase she wanted ownership of us...her children. And to that I say: I'm nobody's property but my own

  2. For me, there is the added issue that "I own the photo and can do whatever I want with it." Even if we explicitly say, Don't share these photos, or please, respect our privacy...the narcs have this a sense of entitlement, that, they feel allows them to do whatever they want anyway. They can exploit these images for their own personal gain and it's really sick.

    I'm sorry PA, that your father's photographs are more precious to him than you are. It's his loss.

  3. Wow. 'Look how happy you are.'

    Does anyone find that Ns make odd mistakes in interpreting people's facial expressions in pictures?


  4. LSV, they're all so similar. It gets boring.

    Jonsi, Yes, they own and can do what they want. My father had a photoshop-altered version of his girlfriend placed on our family computer while I was still living with him. It was offensive to both me, whose late mother's picture had not yet been removed from the other room, and to her, because she was given a stripper's body that her head was placed onto, ad I'm sure it wasn't to her liking, as she's a sane, decent woman. But he enjoyed the ownership.

    GKA, good observation! Actually, in some of those pics I did look happy, but he kept repeating it like it should have been followed by "Yes, Father, thank you for making me so demonstrably happy as a child! You're the greatest!"

  5. Only narcs would need to prove to their adult children that they were happy with pictures of their "smiling faces". And to others, of course, because it's all about impressions.

    When you make a small mention that you didn't quite feel like that at times, he can prove you're wrong and he's right!

  6. Weird. The Dragon was opposite of this. She has very few pictures of us (my brothers and I). In the few she does have, we all look miserable.

    It wasn't until after we were grown, and she was up our asses all the time, did she break out the camera. She drags that damn thing around with her all the time now.

    Her camera use certainly reflexs the attention she paid/pays.... ignored when we were young, harassed once we became adults.

    Complete opposite.... I guess we needed to accomplish something before she was comfortable bragging about how wonderful we are!

    Oh Happy Day!

  7. we dont take pictures at all anymore. probably because my mom is so freaking vain and obsessed with herself that she actively hates and says she hates all pictures of herself so she takes the fun out of that.
    but we do have photo albums of pictures of me since birth through childhood. my mom put them all together very neatly and cutesily. i bet now she would say that those were symbols/labors of her love. the pictures are absolutely boring and make me feel kind of sick. i'm not a happy baby in any of the boring repetitive pictures, 10 pictures of me just lying there in the same spot with a completely unsmiling sort of pained expression on my face. i wish she would have actually done something to make me smile instead of waste time taking so many freaking pictures of me doing nothing.
    i'm smiling in like one or two out of 100 pictures.
    THEN, as soon as i hit a 'competent' age, i'm smiling and posing in all the pictures. not a single candid picture of me doing something fun and smiling. no, posing and performing and looking good for the camera was all i knew. i didnt know how to have fun. i can hear my mom, going 'oh you were so cute and good back then, all the smiling and posing.' ugh.
    i used to wish i had a picture of me as a kid. one to keep. but i realize actually that i dont want to see any of those pictures again. there are no pictures of me as a kid.

  8. cause they're all through my mother's eyes.

  9. Wow, Lisa that's a really informative comment for me -- all of it, but esp. "i didnt know how to have fun."

    I like your perspective in your last comment: all the photos are through the N's eyes anyways.

    My N had a photo of themselves photoshopped and really liked it - they were hyper-critical of what they perceived as physical flaws in photos. I don't think the N understood people are *more* than whatever physical attributes they have, and that even attributes that are considered conventionally negative don't matter once you get to know someone. I'm not certain they ever got that far with someone to experience that.


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