Monday, October 18, 2010

School Graduation Portraits

Traditions and ceremonies loom large in Thai culture, and one they share with most of us is the recognition of academic achievements, such as graduation from a program, school or university. I can't speak for you, but when I graduated from what we in the US call "high school" and college both it was expected that you'd get cleaned up and go to some photographic studio, put on a borrowed outfit and subject yourself to having a portrait taken - for high school, at least.

I put mine away in a closet, hoping it would age like Oscar Wilde's portrait of Dorian Gray. Unfortunately - despite my most fervent wishes - it's still as youthful now as it was 40 years ago, while I've continued to age to the point that I look at it now and wonder if I was ever so young.

Just as you'd find in many countries, portrait studios are often found in Thai shopping malls, where - for a range of fees - students can have photos taken to present as an offering of thanks to their parents or to display themselves as a reminder of their accomplishment.

One afternoon I accompanied a couple of students I know (the two going together as moral support for this new experience) while they went through this minor rite of passage. They spent a few minutes out front, debating who should go first before announcing to the clerk what they were there for and the school they were graduating from. After the clerk agreed to allow me to tag along we were taken behind the lobby into the studio and the guys were put into their loaned robes, pausing to brush their hair, check their faces for blemishes (naturally) and then playfully push one another ahead of the other in an effort not to be "first".

I had my camera out and we took a bunch of photos just for laughs as the photographer adjusted backdrops and lighting.

Although we did a lot more joking around than the photographer wanted, doing odd shots - the "I'm so handsome" pose got a lot of laughs - when their actual turn came they quit fooling around and posed properly for the photos, paid for them, and off we went to dinner.

A couple of days later the three of us returned to the studio and they picked up their portraits, pleased with how they'd turned out. As an unplanned treat I took them both to Robinson's Department Store afterwards and let them each pick out an 8x10 frame for the larger prints they wanted to give to their mothers, and then helped them with the framing later that evening.

It was nice to visit the next trip and see the pictures in the family homes (not as prominent or highly placed as those of the King, naturally) and know I'd had a small part in the process.

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