I used to call my portraits of the mother, the father, the siblings, the daughters-in-laws, the sons-in-law, the grandchildren, the occasional pet, my mega-family portraits. Until I was describing them to Vicki Croke, who instantly quipped,"they're dynasty portraits." Of course.
I never know what is going to happen when the whole gang descends on my studio. Are they going to be like the Royal Tenenbaums, whose family portrait by Richard Avedon is one of my favorite portraits of a modern family. It is simply perfect. No surprise.
The occasion is usually a landmark anniversary: 25 years together, 30, 35. 40. 50. I've done many 50. The record is a 70th anniversary--a record never to be matched i am sure. Or the portrait is for a landmark birthday. The record is a celebration for reaching 93 years!
If the celebration is for a landmark year, I suggest that the family members bring items that symbolize the accomplishment. Like a wedding portrait from the original event. Or old family pictures. Or balloons.
Sometimes, I arrange all the siblings around their parents and put their spouses in the back row. I sprinkle the grandchildren in the front. Sometimes, I arrange the grandchildren around the grandparents and do not worry if they are not right beside their parents. Being beside an uncle or aunt seems close enough.
Sometimes, the portrait is for the grandparents and they aren't in the picture. And sometimes, there are no grandkids. In fact, sometimes the mega-portrait/dynasty portrait includes only a few relatives and many close friends.
I always hope that people are wearing their favorite clothes and that they do not match. That they will clash. That there will be a variety of colors and fabrics. That it will be visually chaotic, reflecting all the work and rescheduling it took to get everyone into my studio at the same time. And of course reflecting the jumble of relationships.
The challenge is to get everyone looking at the camera and to look like they belong in the gang. I have come to be fond of the images w/ a blink or two or a side glance or even a scowl from a grandkid. I never, or rarely, take more than four exposures. After that, many people lose their attention and squirm.