Why Do Family Portraits?


Unlike many people, I don’t have any family photos of my immediate family. In the Soviet Union, where I was born, taking an annual family photo was not part of the culture. 

When my grandfather passed away, my wife insisted we take a family photo at the wake. My family was shocked at the suggestion — wrong time, wrong place, and a strange thing to do at a wake. Yet, somehow, my wife managed to talk everyone into it.  She pulled out a camera and snapped a photo of my grandmother surrounded by her children and grandchildren.

More than thirty years later, almost everyone in the photo is gone, and I am so grateful that we took that amateur picture. It’s the only photo I have of my side of the family. Without that photo, my sons, who were both born after my grandmother passed away, would not have an image of their great-grandmother. They would not be able to put a beaten down face to the story of my grandmother, a woman, who survived the siege of Leningrad, the loss of her first baby to starvation and who would survive and go on to have two more sons and three grandchildren.

The first professional family photo I was ever in was taken at a family wedding with my soon-to-be wife’s side of the family. Coincidentally, it was also the first time that I came to the US. In that photo, I don’t look good. The photo shows a disheveled, startled me, looking like a deer in headlights. That same group took another family photo the following year, this time at my own wedding. I look a little better but still quite startled—but what do you expect? It was my wedding!


My wife’s clan has continued to take family photos every year. It’s always a challenge to get everyone together, as the family at one point consisted of 17 people (from newborns to my wife’s 90-year-old grandmother) spread across two continents and three counties. There is always complaining — first the kids were too small and we had to schedule the photo around their naps, then the kids grew and became teens and oh how they whined about having their pictures taken — but even so, we still managed to get it done. Every year.

As a result, we have family portraits from the early 1990s to 2019.  These family pictures tell a story of a family that, like all families, is changing and evolving. It’s the story of children being born and growing up, of us growing old, of parents and grandparents here for the photo one year and then gone the next… And of 2020 and 2021, when there are no photos, That’s the story of a worldwide pandemic, when we could not get together — yet another chapter in our family story.


So if you don’t want to go through the trouble of getting the clan together for an annual photo , or are wondering whether it’s worth it, think of your family story. How will it be preserved for the future generations? How will your grandchildren, and then great-grandchildren know who you are, who you were, and who you are becoming? 

Someday, when your children have grown up, you’ll all look back fondly at all of the family pictures.. It will give you a chance to remember the summer when one of the kids lost his front tooth, or that year when the other kid hit a major growth spurt, or when you had a family meeting on whether to include a long-term girlfriend in the photo… You’ll document your family story as it changes over time.


Whether you hire a professional photographer (and I hope you do!) or have a friend take a photo with a phone, make a regular group photo part of your family’s tradition.