Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Fine Portraiture

My wife got an email the other day that she promptly forwarded to me. Two lines into the text and I was hot with anger, reliving a confounding scenario from a few years back - The time we had family pictures taken. Excuse me. The time we had “fine portraiture” done of our family. I won’t tell you the name of the fine portraiturist, but his initials are TB, like tuberculosis.

Getting family pictures taken is normally a happy time... for the mom. It’s usually an intolerable pain for the husband and children, but a happy time for the mom... until everyone starts griping. Then it’s an annoying time for the mom who can’t figure out why her family can’t just take ten damned minutes out of their little lives to appreciate the fact that she worked very hard to set all this up, not to mention how hard she works every damn day for all you ungrateful little snot-nosed punks, and can’t everyone just shut the hell up and smile?

That’s why family pictures always show forced smiles. Because all the smiles are forced.

This particular fine family portraiture session was nothing like that. It was magical. TB, the portraiturist, was engaging and funny, great with the kids, and he took the best pictures of our family that have been and probably will ever be taken. We look so good it’s actually hard to believe it’s really us. When we were done he even gave us twenty bucks to go get the kids some ice cream. It was the best picture taking experience ever, even though the made-up word 'portraiture' bugs the crap out of me almost more than 'artisanal.'

Then three weeks later my wife and I went back to look at the pictures. We got a babysitter because they told us specifically not to bring the kids. Hmm...

We had booked this particular fine portraiture studio for only one reason: We ended up with a $500 gift certificate from them at our elementary school charity auction. It consisted of a $250 sitting fee credit and a $250 credit toward the portraiture. It was a sweet deal for us, because my wife had helped with the auction and not all of the gift certificates had been bid on, so we ended up with one for free. Score! We thought...

My wife had even made a trip over to the portraiture studio to have a pre-session wardrobe meeting, which I thought was ridiculous, but she thought was classy. At that meeting they collected a $100 deposit from her that would be “fully refundable if not used.”

“No problem,” she thought. “We have $250 in credit toward our pictures. We’ll get the $100 back.”

They even gave us a postcard-sized piece of cardboard that we were supposed to tape on the wall where we thought we wanted our pictures to hang. We took a picture of it with our phone to send to them. With that cardboard marker as a reference for their computer software, they were able to show us a virtual picture of our new fine portraiture hanging on our own walls. I was already excited about the cool technology.

We arrived to look at our pictures and TB was nowhere to be found. We met with a fancy woman whose name was either Candi or Barbie. I can’t remember which. She sat down at her expansive oak desk and fired up the projector while I ate complimentary chocolate chip cookies and drank complimentary water from the classy little short plastic bottle. The projector came to life and there were all of our shining faces on the screen, arranged magically above our crappy upright piano. A good-sized family shot was surrounded by 8x10 individual pictures of the kids and a slightly larger one of me and my wife and in a loving embrace.

My God, we look amazing!

Then CandiBarbie started talking about prices. The family shot is just $700, and since you’re buying that, the 8x10’s which are normally $250 will be thrown in for only $200 each...

*record scratch*

“Hold on a second,” I said, utterly befuddled, as complimentary chocolate chip cookie crumbs fell from my open mouth. I did some rudimentary public school math in my head. “The wall you’re showing us costs over $1700?”


I looked over at my wife, and she was crying.

We will never own all these amazing pictures of our beautiful children, because TB the fine portraiturist does not sell the digital files. Just galactically overpriced canvas prints. Holy crap, we wasted so much of our time, and now this TB SOB and his fancy minion just made my wife cry. I’m pissed.

I hold my tongue for a minute while I calm down. CandiBarbie waits quietly behind her giant oak desk.

“OK,” I finally say. “Let’s concentrate on the family shot. Figuring in our deposit, we have $350 to work with. What is the largest size we can get for that?”

“A single 9x12,” says CandiBarbie.

Sounds totally reasonable. I started to ask my wife, “OK, is that a size that we can get an off-the-shelf frame for?”, but I stopped and asked CandiBarbie the question instead, since she was the portraiture expert in the room.

She looked me right in the eye and said, “You know, I’m really not sure.”

My wife’s teary eyes flared like an angry dragon. If she actually had the power to shoot flames from her eyes, CandiBarbie would have been a smoking pile of ashes on the floor behind a flaming oak desk.

Later, after we had extricated ourselves from their den of inequity, my wife clued me in on CandiBarbie’s apparent frame ignorance. “Their frame shop is right behind her office. That was going to be the next part of the sales pitch.”


In the end, we only paid $100, but if we’d walked in off the street with no “gift certificate,” that stupid little 9x12 piece of fine portraiture would have cost us $600.

Just wow.

The email my wife forwarded to me that brought back this wonderful memory, you ask? Apparently it has come time for old TB to retire from fine portraiture, and he’s now able to offer us all of our digital files on a CD for only $325.

Hmm.. I think instead of taking him up on that amazing limited time offer, I’ll just take a picture of our family portraiture and email it back to him. I nailed it to the boys’ bathroom wall with a roofing nail. Off center.

"Dear TB and CandiBarbie, Thanks for the great offer, but we’ll have to pass. We’re thrilled with our $600 single 9x12. FYI – no commercial frames available for this size.”

See you soon,


Copyright © 2016 Marc Schmatjen

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