We shudder at his shutter

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Thanks to high-tech "smart" camera, a preteen now can photograph his mother bent over picking Vienna sausages off the carpet in dim light. Though her face is totally in shadow, it will look just like her.

Some fools call this "progress."

When my son unwrapped a new camera on his birthday, we all wore pretty "Say 'cheese'!" smiles. That's the last time we looked good, even with the camera's fancy, red-eye-reduction feature.

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Now we flip a coin to see who must slink to the photo counter and redeem the latest gallery of perfectly focused and lighted rogues.

"Why didn't you tell me I look like a magnified dust mite?" my mother asked when she saw her likeness. "How long have my lips been missing?"

Without a flash to fire up or a "beep!" to warn us, the little hotshot's camera has captured the entire family in photos suitable for framing us. He extorted five bucks from his teenage sister for the infamous "mozzarella beard" photo.

"I'm never eating cheese pizza again," she wailed as she shredded the negative.

In the good-old "dumb" camera days, the photographer needed to know something. If a photo made you look like a red-eyed werewolf, you had an alibi. Blame the shooter, not genetics.

Now this whole photography business is kid stuff, goof-proof. There's no way for a subject to save face.

My son's new camera is palm-size, which adds to its sneakiness. Before you can shout, "Look who's creepin' behind the couch!" someone's been documented. There's a shot of Dad, for instance, clipping his toenails. For this masterpiece, our little photographer activated the silent, automatic zoom lens, so Dad's toe bristles loom larger than Stonehenge.

The camera's features include landscape and portrait modes, too. I'm not sure of the particulars of these features, but we have a photo of the honeysuckle bushes next door in sharp focus with our neighbor standing fuzzily in the foreground. And we have another photo that shows the neighbor clearly standing in front of his fuzzy honeysuckle bushes.

However, our budding photographer mainly focuses on mortifying his own family. The photo of Dad with his doomsday face, steadying a stack of bills, is so lifelike it's scary.

"Please, dear, let me wake up first and smooth the sheet crinkles from my jowls," I said the other morning when he took aim at my pre-breakfast face.

Snap!

You can't break that camera. I've tried. It even went through the laundry in his jeans pocket.

Of course, the only time we can photograph the photographer is when he's at his best, striking a golf pose or sitting tall on his bicycle. I finally decided to humor his hobby the other night. After all, the kid might be the next Ansel Adams. I lacquered my hair, glossed my lips, and propped my chin on my palm.

"OK, buddy. Shoot me," I said and smiled. "Punch that 'portrait mode.' "

"Sorry, Mom," he replied. "I'm out of film. I just used up the last shot on the hermit crab."

I bet that crab won't look any better than the rest of us.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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