Senior Photos, Y'All!

Today is David's 18th birthday. In honor of that epic event, I give you an equally epic senior photo shoot, courtesy of Jen Vos Photography.

Long story short, as I've mentioned before, I've never been into school photos or portrait studios. It's not that I'm not sentimental! It's just that David and I both experience getting our pictures taken in formal settings (where the emphasis is on us and not, say, the cool place we're in) as paralyzingly self-conscious-making. And the awkward results are far more painful than heartwarming. Thus, when it came time for David's high school senior pictures, we started joking about how monumentally horrible they were going to be. Which morphed into us laughing about the heroic poses he should assume. Which in turn morphed into the most brilliant idea we've ever had with regard to a photo-shoot--namely, that his senior pictures should be a series of recreations of famous paintings/sculptures.

Believe me--I tried really hard to get him to go for Michelangelo's David. I even told him he could have a fig leaf! (To appreciate how funny that idea was, you have to understand that I've somehow given birth to the world's most modest child: I've barely seen him with his shirt off in the last 6 years.) After much discussion and a fair bit of hilarity, however, we settled on the following four paintings:

1. Washington Crossing the Delaware


(original 1851 painting by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze)

2. The Potato Eaters


(original 1885 painting, "De Aardappeleters", by Vincent van Gogh)

3. The Last Supper


(original late 15-century painting, "Il Cenacolo", by Leonardo da Vinci)

4. Napoleon Crossing the Alps


(original 1801 painting, also known as "Napoleon at the Saint-Bernard Pass", by Jacques-Louis David)

The next stage was finding someone who was up for the photo-shoot and editing work. Fortunately, I have a friend who not only does a lot of engagement shoots and wedding photography but who also has a sense of humor, and she said she'd be willing to give it a go. The goal was to pose David (and assorted supporting characters) in costume as close to the original as possible, and then photo-shop the result into the original painting. With help from Will (David's best friend), Hannah (Will's sister), and Natalie (Will's mom, also a good friend of mine), we staged a memorable photo-shoot at my house, with special guest appearances in the alley next to my house and the 1 penny mechanical horse (Sandy) that you can ride at our local grocery store, Meijer. Without further ado, I give you the amazing pre-photo-shopped tableaus:

1'. David Crossing the Alley


Note the noble gaze, the scarlet baby-wrap-qua-cape-lining, the white frills on the gold-lined cuffs--the plastic ninja sword! Note Will, standing stalwartly by his side. And, to the far right, note my clogs and bright pink yoga pants as Natalie and I hold the white sheet up behind the boys in the pouring rain. Truly, the spirit of 1776 is still alive and well in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

2'. The Eaters of Invisible Potatoes

potato non-eaters

This one was, in many ways, the hardest to pose. For one thing, although we are all of stout Dutch peasant stock and thus took naturally to the resigned "No, really--potatoes for dinner again is just fine" attitude, Van Gogh's painting is all wacky with its proportions and involves impossible angles. That said, Natalie and I are totally rocking our improvised bonnets. And the back of Hannah's head is redikeless. Plus, Will is about to eat pretend potatoes like a champ, and David is feeling that cup of imaginary tea.

3'. The Last Supper is Grape Jelly


The grape jelly isn't in this shot, but I had spent the afternoon of the shoot turning 10 pounds of concord grapes into jelly, and David insisted that jars of the jelly stand in for the wine on the table in the original painting while we were setting up. (For the actual shot, sadly, they had to go.) What's really amazing about this picture is David's hair. He actually let Hannah curl it for the occasion. We're all pretty awesome here, though. Special shout-out for the woven baby wraps that David and I are wearing and for Natalie's costume bin, which supplied everything else.

4'. David Bonaparte on Sandy


Ah, Sandy-the-penny-horse-at-Meijer. May you forever gallop near check-out lanes of dispirited shoppers. Will here again demonstrates the depth of his friendship by holding up David's cloak, while David demonstrates his ability to look majestic even while people point and laugh. That hat, though! Armed with nothing but a tricorn (and Napoleon's hat is, as everyone knows, a bicorn) and some stiff gold ribbon, Natalie worked some serious decorative magic to create a chapeau truly worthy of crossing the Alps.

(Bonus photo: when I was giving some talks in Switzerland and Germany in July 2014, I took David and Will with me and we actually drove over the Saint-Bernard Pass that's featured in the original. Look! It was breathtaking, and involved far fewer dead and dying bodies on the ground than feature in the painting.)


Finally, then, I give you...

David's Senior Photos

1''. David Crossing the Delaware

final washington


detail wash

Again, never has a $3 plastic ninja sword bought near Legoland in California in 2007 served a greater end.

2''. The Potato Wannabe Eaters

final potato

Just...take a moment to appreciate how carefully Jen set up the lighting here so it would match the painting.

3''. David's Last Supper

d supper


detail supper

I happily award full points to all of us for this effort. And, finally:

4''. David VanDyke Bonaparte


THE senior picture. As in, the one I sent off to the yearbook. With absolutely no explanation or comment.

Finally, in case you were wondering what happens when we try to take 'normal' photos of ourselves--say, to commemorate an 18th birthday--this is what happens:


(Honestly. We tried like 10 times to get a photo where we were both smiling like normal people, and they were all dismal failures. So we said, "Ok--how about one where we're not smiling?" NAILED IT.)

Happy birthday, David!!

I love you, bug.

Author image

Christina Van Dyke

scholar, mother, and proud owner of the largest couch in creation
  • here and there
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