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"The 'photo ghost' is the sub-species of human that every family has living amongst them."

From my recent studies of human families and their behaviour, I have come to the discovery that there is a new sub-species of human that nearly every family has living amongst it, the ‘photo ghost’. And this my friends, is a problem.

Before proceeding, it is important to understand the scientific definition of this sub-species: the person behind the camera, that is rarely, if ever, in front of it.

As part of my research I looked at groups I had familiarity with and exposure to – my own family. The results were pretty conclusive. Past photo ghosts within my family tree include my grandfather, the pioneer photo ghost in the family and photographer for 99 per cent of events when my mum was growing up. In my generation, it was my mother, and now with my own young family it has come to my attention that it is my husband.

For many families, the photo ghost is just a product of necessity – there needs to be people in the photo and there needs to be someone taking it. The thing is, it is often the same people who are in them and the same people taking them, thus creating the ‘family photo ghost’. Often a helpful family member will pop up their hand, perhaps they are the budding photographer of the family, perhaps they like to have control or perhaps no one else wants to take the photo.

The problem with the ‘family ghost’ is that if they continue to live amongst the rest of the family, before too long, when we look back at our photos some day in the future it is like they were never there.

This is what the majority of our 'family photos' look like because my husband is always on the other side. Image: Supplied.
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When I look at photos of me when I was younger, 95 per cent are of me, just me. As an only child with a sole parent, my mum took the photos while I was in them. Now this mostly had to do with the fact that there was often no one else to take the photo, but it also had to do with the fact that my mum hated being in photos. If by some miracle she decided to be the subject of the photo, it was usually hidden behind me so only her face would be captured, rather than all of her.

My mum isn’t the only one who feels this way about photos, especially now with the ever-watchful presence of social media and the way in which it encourages us to look. There are many people, often women, who are hiding behind objects or other people in photos or refusing to take part in them all together because they don’t want to be captured in a photo wearing ‘those clothes’ or with the ‘extra 5kg after Christmas’ or with their ‘greys growing back’. There are many women (and men) who are extremely self-conscious about their appearance and for them, choosing to be the photographer is often a productive way of opting out.

As someone with only one ‘immediate’ family member growing up, it is quite disheartening looking back at my childhood photos and often being the only person in them. Now as I flip through the photo albums containing images of my own family, I can see this trend reoccurring, with my husband as the photo ghost. This time though, it is not too late to give this ghost a new life and allow him to become visible again.

Being self-conscious and hating your photo being taken are pretty common pairings, but being a photo ghost in the majority of family photos doesn’t just impact the person not wanting to be photographed but also the other people around them. Family photos are there to capture memories, events and people so having everyone visible within the collection is important in doing this accurately and meaningfully.

In years to come when future generations are looking through family photos, these imperfections or insecurities that are most likely only seen by ourselves aren’t going to be what is talked about. Your kids won’t look back at photos and say, “Geez mum you needed to get your roots done", instead they will be reminiscing about the adventures you had together that day and the memories you made. These are the reasons why being present in photos is so important.

Our next family holiday is booked in for January. This is when our family photo ghost, my husband, will hand over the Canon and say “cheese” more regularly than he has before and I will capture him swimming at the beach or building sandcastles with our girls and in 20 years time they can look back and talk about all the memories they made together that summer.

Do you have a family photo ghost? Tell us about your experiences in a comment below.

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