Wednesday, February 18, 2015

A Third Open Letter to Lifetouch School Portraits

Dear Lifetouch School Portraits,

I wrote you two previous letters back in March of last year, and I’m not totally sure if your corporate office got them or not. The gist of both letters was this:

You guys show up at my sons’ elementary school in September every year to take school pictures, which is great. Thanks for doing that. Then, for some reason, you also show up again in February, which, if my calendar is correct, is only five months later. I never order any of the “spring pictures,” but for reasons known only to your marketing department, you guys take pictures of my kids anyway.

Then, apparently to really sweeten the deal for me, the guy who didn’t want spring pictures at all, you print those unwanted pictures out on everything from regular picture paper to laminated plastic keychain fobs and send them to me. Between my three boys, they bring home thirty-five pounds of unwanted photos and photo-emblazoned useless plastic trinkets in March, showing them in T-shirts and uncombed hair.

The reason for the letters was not necessarily to question your strange business model of sending folks stuff they didn’t ask for. It was to explain to you why I wouldn’t be sending the photos back. Short answer: If I want to keep them, I’ll gladly pay you for them. If I don’t want them, I’ll get rid of them myself. I trust myself to do it correctly more than I trust you (no offense intended), and I won’t waste the school’s time recollecting them for you. I have a perfectly good shredder here at home.

So that was the main focus of the first two letters, but like I said, I never heard back from anyone at headquarters. I did receive a rather emotional email from one of your photographers in some other state, explaining to me all the good reasons why you send me pictures I don’t order and why I am legally required to send them back if I don’t want them.

I was kind enough to take some time out of my day to respond to her and explain exactly what “legally required” actually means and why, as such, I was not required - legally or otherwise - to spend half a second of my time returning something I didn’t order in the first place.

Since I am a really nice guy, I also didn’t forward her ridiculous email on to you. She took it upon herself to speak on behalf of your company when she obviously had neither the authority nor the actual ability to do so, but I didn’t want her to lose her job just because she was a little naïve. She was obviously passionate about her work, and we need more of that these days, not less.

Anyhow, I didn’t really need a response from you, but I did want to write to you again today just to give you a heads-up and to apologize.

I sort of accidentally sabotaged this year’s spring pictures yesterday. Just for Son Number Two’s class, mind you, and not the whole school, so there is that, but the bottom line is you’re going to get a lot more retake requests this year.


I want you to know that I harbor no ill-feelings toward your company. While I am truly baffled by the amount of money you choose to spend trying to get me to buy pictures of my children with mustard stains on their shirts, it is your money. This is America. You can blow your money however you want. I like freedom, so I’m cool with that. My thwarting of picture day was purely unintentional, I assure you.

If I may explain… I serve as the art docent for Son Number Two’s third grade class. Once a month I go to their class and pretend that I know something about art. (Me posing as an authority on art is hilarious, believe me, but I have managed to fool the children. I prefer to think of it as “necessary staged confidence” instead of “lying and ad-libbing.”)

Anyway, back in September I scheduled out the entire year’s art lessons with Son Number Two’s teacher, so March 17th had been on the calendar for months. Unfortunately for you and any of the parents who actually planned on buying spring pictures this year, it also happened to be picture day.

I, of course, was not aware it was picture day. I mean, I got your flyer back in January, but I never bothered to add the date to our calendar, because I believe one picture of my children’s painful forced smiles is enough for a school year.

Well, the scheduling conflict wouldn’t have been so bad, except this art lesson happened to be with chalk pastels. In case you are not familiar with the use of chalk pastels on construction paper, it involves a lot of hand-rubbing to mix the color palette to achieve rich, vibrant, lifelike tones. (Sounds like I know what I’m talking about, right?)

So basically, I took a classroom full of kids - one of whom actually stayed in at recess earlier that day so her dress wouldn’t get dirty – and gave them each their own tray of what is basically high-quality playground chalk. Then I told them to draw a horse and a full background, filling the 9x12 page with rich, vibrant, lifelike hand-rubbed tones.

This all happened before they got called to go get their pictures taken.

I’m not going to lie to you. It wasn’t pretty. Every kid ended up with chalk on them. There was chalk in their hair, chalk on their faces, chalk on and in their ears. One kid even ended up with green chalk all over his neck. I’m not sure if he was rubbing his own neck or if one of his classmates was trying to choke him, but there it was.

And their clothes… Apparently kids rub their hands on their clothes quite a bit. I thought that was only at meal time, but I guess not.

Now, all the chalk might not have been so bad, except the second part of the lesson involved Elmer’s glue.

Again, back to the rubbing of the face and clothes and hair… any chalk that may have been able to be washed off was eventually just glued in place.

Have you ever seen pictures of people after one of those color run events, where you show up in white clothes and run a 5K while people throw colored chalk dust at you?

It was a lot like that… only worse… you know… because of the glue.

So, yeah… sorry about that.

On the bright side, the horse pictures turned out great. Maybe the parents will just send those to the grandparents instead of the Lifetouch school portraits this spring.

Again, very sorry.



Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen

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  1. You definitely made the art session "COME ALIVE". I can just picture (no pun intended) those kids lining up for their photo session. Nancy D

  2. Thanks, Nancy. I have been advised not to comment further until the Lifetouch lawsuit against me has been settled. I'm a little worried, since the only defense attorney I could afford is my fourth-grader.