Inventor of the Photobomb

My son Lawrence is an accomplished photobomber. If you’re taking a picture and Lawrence is anywhere in the vicinity, you can be sure he’s going to find his way into your pic.

According to Urbandictionary.com:

photobomb

(verb)- to drop in a photo unexpectedly…to hop in a picture right before it is taken.

Sarah: hey why is jimmy in the background of our prom picture?
Ryan: idk, he must have photobombed it at the last second.

A few years back, we attended a mass given by our new bishop at my sons’ school. My daughter Charlotte really wanted to get a picture with the new bishop, so after mass, she and her friend Erin waited in a long line.

Since the bishop was the first new one in the diocese in more than three decades, everyone seemed interested in meeting him, so Charlotte and Erin had to be very patient. When their time came, they shook hands with the bishop and then asked for the photo op. I had been waiting off to the side, camera at the ready.

It turns out Lawrence had been waiting too. As you can see from the picture below, he managed to worm his way in there pretty well.

photobomb

Erin, Bishop Matano, (Lawrence), and Charlotte

This past summer we visited my wife’s sister Janet for a week up in Halifax, Nova Scotia. One evening, Emily and Janet got all dressed up for a party and when I went to take their picture… well, you guessed it. Lawrence struck again, but how he managed to frame himself in such a small hole I’ll never know.

photobomb

Janet, (Lawrence), and Emily

I’m not sure I’d call it talent, but it is something.

As good as Lawrence is at this fairly mindless activity, it pales in comparison to a gentleman I met more than three decades ago. As far as I am concerned he is the inventor if the photobomb… his name is Robert Williams.


In the fall of 1982, I was in 8th grade. Because my middle school did not have a cross-country team, if the middle schoolers wanted to run XC, we had to bus over to the high school and run with the big kids.

My brother Doug was a junior on the team that year, and although I’m sure he wasn’t too thrilled to have his kid brother cramping his high school mojo, I think I managed to fit in pretty well with the group of mostly older runners.

One of the seniors was this fun, crazy guy named Robert Williams.

Robert was one of those people who you meet and immediately want to hang out with. He was fun, funny and really didn’t care what anyone else thought about what he said or did.

Robert was a valuable member of the 1982 Penfield High School Cross-Country team and you can see him here in the team picture.

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Robert is there on the left. Your humble author in the back row.

Robert went on to run indoor and spring track that year, and he appeared in those team pictures as well. But Robert’s interests and extracurricular activity stopped abruptly with sports, so this is where things get interesting.

It turns out Robert enjoyed having his picture taken. Furthermore, his personality (as described above) was such that people wanted to be in pictures with Robert. It was with this in mind, that he did his level best to photobomb the entire yearbook.

In the following three activity pictures, Robert showed up and settled in with the group to have his picture taken by the photographer. There was only one problem… Robert was not a member of any of these groups.

photobomb

Robert knew how to fit in.

As you can see, not only did he show up, but he played his part so naturally that the other members of each group probably thought he was a member. Of course, he was not.

photobomb

Robert could really sell it.

In two of these pictures, Robert is listed as “R. Williams,” but in one, he told the photographer’s assistant that his name was “Velvet Jones,” the Saturday Night Live character played by Eddie Murphy. The assistant was clearly not a late night comedy fan, because where Robert appears in the picture, the legend clearly notes the student’s name as “V. Jones.”

photobomb

Click the picture for the video.

 

photobomb

“Mr. Jones to the principal’s office please.”

 

photobomb

Robert bombed the photo AND the caption… brilliant!

Getting back to Cross Country, Robert pulled off what I hold to this day to be the greatest photobomb of them all.

The first Saturday of every October, Rochester NY is host to the running of the McQuaid Cross-Country Invitational. It is one of the largest meets of its kind in the USA. In fact, this year’s meet was run just last Saturday with more than 8,000 high school athletes competing.

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Runners take off at the McQuaid Invitational

Robert was a talented runner, but Cross Country was not really his bailiwick. Robert was more of an 800-meter runner, maybe a miler on a good day. Lack of ability over the longer distances didn’t seem to bother Robert however. I spoke with another teammate recently who recalled how the coach used to yell at Robert for singing while he ran, screaming, “stop having so much fun!”

His talent was what it was, but he was on the varsity team running in the biggest race of the day; the large schools seeded varsity boys race. It is normal for runners to jog around the course in the time leading up to a race, and an hour before the gun the Penfield team covered every foot of the 3.0 mile course.

As they crossed the marker at the first-mile, Robert noticed something and made a mental note. Towards the end of a long day the boys lined up and the gun went off.

At the time, the McQuaid course started at one end of a quarter-mile long field. At the other end was a tree where the runners had to make a 90-degree turn to the right. With hundreds of runners in each race, it was critical to get out in front early. As the runners rounded the tree, Robert was unexpectedly in the lead pack.

The runners continued up the hill and along the ridge. As they came through the one-mile point, there was Robert inexplicably leading the pack. Everyone watching was dumbfounded until we saw the flashes go off.

You see, Robert had observed a gaggle of press photographers camped at the one-mile mark and he was determined to be the subject of their snaps.

Despite my best efforts pouring over reels of microfilm in the Local History Room of the Rochester Central Library, I was unable to find the picture I vividly remember appearing in a local paper; which one I cannot recall. There was Robert out in front; arms in the air like he was breaking the tape… unfortunately for him there were two more miles to the finish. Once the camera shutters snapped shut, Robert folded like a cheap tent, quickly falling back to the place in the pack more in line with his running chops.

I did find this article about my friend Grant Whitney who won the “big race” at McQuaid the year before.

photobomb


Here’s the thing about photography. It used to require careful decision-making and a commitment of time and resources (film & developing were far from free). At a time when he had no idea if he had been successful, Robert Williams was dedicated to an art form that wouldn’t even be named for decades. He stuck his noggin where it didn’t belong with no immediate satisfaction on the success of his efforts, yet here I am talking about it thirty-two years later.

Well played Robert, well played.

All four of my children were born after digital photography had overtaken film. They have no knowledge of how precious a “great shot” really was, and how long we had to wait to find out if we actually got one.

Sad as this might be, we still have little jackasses like my son Lawrence to keep us laughing. So, get out there and get yourself in a picture where you don’t belong, but be sure to look behind you to check for Lawrence… or maybe even Velvet Jones.

Copyright © 2016 – Stephen S. Nazarian – All rights reserved.

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