Embarrassing photographs are another example of how one man's trash is another blogger's treasure. Mike Bender and Doug Chernack, both local screenwriters — Bender's worked on the MTV Movie Awards and wrote 2001's Not Another Teen Movie, while Chernack has produced reality TV shows, including 2002's Star Dates — created Awkwardfamilyphotos.com last year after Bender himself found one such photograph of a family ski trip, giving birth to the online gold mine, which gets approximately 200 submissions a day. No doubt you've spent precious work hours scrolling through the images of bad hair, bad fashion, bad poses and, speaking of birth, way too many expectant couples who clearly find a pregnant belly an erotic turn on. (Our personal favorites are the family photographs with the lone Goth kid. Goths in any normal setting are funny.) Bender and Chernack have now launched a companion book, Awkward Family Photos (Three Rivers Press), which includes nearly 200 new pictures. We caught up with the two before their book signing at Barnes and Noble at The Grove Thursday, May 6, 7-8 p.m.
Which came first, the photographs or the blog?
Mike Bender: It started with a photo that's in my parent's house. Doug and I went to lunch and he was like, “I have a ton of those photos as well,” and we we felt like everybody must have these somewhere. What if we created a place where people were comfortable sharing their uncomfortable family photos?
What was the immediate reaction?
Doug Chernack: The very first week we went live with the site, I sent the link to a friend of mine who worked for a radio station in Providence, Rhode Island. He posted it on their website's homepage and all the Clear Channel radio stations started picking up the link. It was this weird case of old media servicing new media. That first week we went from a few hundred hits to a million.
Have there been pictures you've refused to post?
MB: Sometimes, they're just a little too graphic. We've gotten submissions of a water birth. The only other thing we look for is when people try to force it. People trying to be intentionally awkward looking. The awkwardness is better when the people in the photo aren't aware of it.
Why so many pictures of pregnant women baring their bellies?
MB: When somebody is pregnant at the time they feel it's a beautiful poetic photo. But when we get them, we definitely see the awkwardness.
Has anyone ever asked to have a photograph removed?
DC: Sometimes a member of a family submits a photo and they can't wait for it to be on the site. And then someone else in the family decides,”Wait a minute, I don't think it's awkward,” and they'll ask us to take it down.
MB: We had a photo that was really popular called “The Choker.” The brother sent it in, but the sister then wrote in and wanted to take it down. It was interesting because you could see the family dynamic in the photo. We're very mindful of the fact that people are sending us their family photos, which are private things, so they're sharing with us. We try our best to have fun, but also respect them.
MB: There's a photo called “The Dribbler.” It's a Christmas photo with a kid posing with his parents and he'd obviously just gone to the bathroom and peed on himself a little. Funny part is he now refers to himself as “The Dribbler.”
DC: There's a very disturbing Easter Bunny photo, and it looks like the bunny has jaundice. That photo was so disturbing when we put it up, the next day we got about 100 submissions of all these creepy Easter Bunny photos. I had never known that these giant Easter Bunnies that hang out at the mall are so disturbing and scare the heck out of children even more than mall Santas.