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A Holiday Photo Book That Puts Families In An 'Awkward' Position

Dec 4, 2013
Originally published on December 4, 2013 10:06 am

In 2009, Mike Bender was horrified to find that his mother had hung a particularly embarrassing family photo.

"It was a vacation photo. It was my dad's 50th birthday. I was 13," he says. "My dad had my brother and I do a Rockette's kick with our skis. We were on top of a mountain, right by the lift, and I just remember feeling, you know, stuck in that pose: This. Is. Awkward."

But as an adult he realized that the photo was not only awkward — it was hilarious.

And so began the Awkward Family Photos blog. The concept took off, and Bender and co-founder Doug Chernack were soon accepting hundreds of submissions.

"Everybody has an awkward family photo somewhere — somewhere hiding in a drawer or in their attic, somewhere in the house," Bender says.

And with all of the togetherness of the holidays comes a wealth of opportunities for extreme awkwardness — thus, Bender and Chernack's new book: Awkward Family Holiday Photos.

"There is a running theme ... of kids who have peed their pants while on Santa's lap," says Bender. "That, I didn't realize was a thing, but it is apparently a thing."

There are also "bad" Santas, kids dressed in homemade elf costumes, and lots of babies imitating turkeys in roasting pans.

If you and your family want to get in on the awkwardness, Bender has some tips. First, he says, positioning is key.

"Usually, you know, you line up by height, you pile on top of each other, you do the arm shelf, which is where you actually lean on your hand, and your arm is down and you kind of create a shelf for your head. That is a classic."

Poses are also important. "Any sort of pose is going to make a photo awkward," Bender says. And keep holiday attire in mind.

"Matching outfits. You know, Christmas, for whatever reason, really brings out the matchy-matchy in everybody," he says. "So that means matching sweaters, matching red turtlenecks ... matching long johns."

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Hey, another popular website focuses its contents on just one thing, awkward family photos. It began in 2009, when Mike Bender was horrified to find that his mother had hung a particularly awful family photo.

MIKE BENDER: It was a vacation photo. It was my dad's 50th birthday. I was 13, my dad had my brother and I do a Rockette's kick with our skis. We were on top of a mountain, right by the lift, and I just remember feeling, you know, stuck in that pose. This. Is. Awkward.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Awkward - but as an adult, he realized that this photo was also something else. It was hilarious.

And so began the website AwkwardFamilyPhotos.com. The concept took off. Bender and co-founder Doug Chernack's site now gets submissions from across the country and even around the world.

BENDER: Everybody has an awkward family photo somewhere, hiding in a drawer or in their attic; somewhere in the house.

MONTAGNE: Holiday gatherings, in particular, produce a wealth of awkward photos - which led to Bender and Chernack's new book, "Awkward Family Holiday Photos."Bender says that several themes emerged while putting the book together.

BENDER: There is a running theme, though, of kids who have peed their pants while on Santa's lap. That, I didn't realize was a thing. But it is, apparently, a thing.

GREENE: And sometimes, it's not the kids, but the Santa who makes the picture so awkward, as in the cover photo.

BENDER: It's a photo with three children who have gone to -presumably, the mall, to take a photo with Santa. In this case, Santa has a very prominent black eye; which is amazing because he showed up to work with a black eye, and his job happens to be being the subject of photos.

MONTAGNE: The book also features kids dressed in homemade elf costumes, families of five creating human pyramids, and lots of babies imitating turkeys in roasting pans. If you and your family want to get in on the awkwardness, Bender has some tips. First, he says, positioning is key.

BENDER: Usually, you know, you line up by height. You pile on top of each other. There is the brother and sister where you have to go back-to-back.

GREENE: Poses can also work wonders.

BENDER: You do the arm shelf, which is where you actually lean on your hand and your arm is down and you kind of create a shelf for your head. That is a classic. Any sort of pose is going to make a photo awkward.

MONTAGNE: Plus, clothing can be a magical ingredient.

BENDER: Matching outfits. Matching sweaters, matching red turtle necks, and we have one of those photos in the book of the whole family in beautiful red turtle necks, matching long johns, just matching. I think, you know, Christmas, for whatever reason, really brings out the matchy-matchy in everybody.

GREENE: The book, "Awkward Family Holiday Photos," is out now. You can also view some of the awkwardness on our website, NPR.org. And for ideas on what to give this holiday season, you can visit our new book concierge at NPR.org/best books.

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GREENE: And you're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.