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Published May 29 2011

Swift: Picture-perfect memories

I must admit it: I’m feeling a tad jealous.

After spending the last few days eyeballing gorgeously shot, super-creative photos of seniors from recent high school graduating classes, I did feel twinges of envy.

Why were senior photos so stuffy and formal when I graduated? Why did bolo ties and feathered hair have to be in? And why didn’t I push the proverbial envelope and get a photo taken with my pet diplodocus?

Nobody treated you like “America’s Next Top Model” in 1983. They treated you like “The Next Senior Who Will Smile While Holding Up This Tree.”

The early ’80s seemed to be a transitional time for the portrait industry. Photographers had expanded beyond the strict head-and-shoulders shot, but there were still many, many rules.

You had to have the photo taken where you folded your hands to reveal your class ring. You were locked into “photo packages,” which required that you buy 40,000 wallet-sized images and at least one giant portrait visible from space. And, as one classmate discovered, you couldn’t wear anything strapless, or it would give your head-and-shoulders shot an unfortunate Lady Godiva quality.

Sure, some brazen types dared to push the envelope. Our high school was abuzz when a wealthy rancher’s daughter decided to incorporate her new car into her portrait. One girl took a photo with her dog. And a few ladies even had their pictures taken with their boyfriends (never a good idea in the fickle era of young love; they should have stuck to poodles as props).

In our own small way, my friends and I also rebelled. In those days, everyone in our hometown went to d’joyce photography studio in Bismarck. But we were rebels, so we decided to go across the river to the George Masseth studio in Mandan.

Masseth was a good photographer, and he had completely different sets. There would be no wicker chairs for us. Instead, we could perch on a fainting couch in a fake study.

I felt so elegant and dignified in these surroundings – like Charlene Tilton reading the World Book Encyclopedias while waiting for her parole officer in the Southfork drawing room.

I don’t remember much else about my sessions. There were many trips to the dressing room for unnecessary hair-feathering and re-applications of Bonne Belle Lip Smackers. In an homage to the Stray Cats, I wore a bowling shirt for a series of poses on a faux porch.

And I was horrified when Masseth wanted to take a profile shot, especially after spending 17 years convinced that I had Marty Feldman’s profile. (Bless Masseth and his miracle lighting; it actually turned out kind of cool.)

In retrospect, my portraits haven’t aged too badly. Fortunately, this was in the days before the “Star Wars Laser Show!” backdrop or the giant “1983.”

But, seriously, would you like a wallet-sized photo?

I still have 75 of them.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tammy Swift at (701) 241-5525