Smiling for the Camera is Harder Than You Think

May 7, 2008 at 7:32 am (Uncategorized)

My sister in law is a photographer. She works three days a week at the Art Gallery of NSW, and the rest of the time she’s a freelancer. She does all sorts of work, and she’s very good (I know I’m biased, but she is). One of the things she’s building up in her portfolio is portraiture, and quite a long while ago now, she asked me if she could take mine. Good for her, she reasoned, and good for me. If ever I get my bloody manuscript past GO, one day I will actually need a decent photo of myself at some point, for something, and believe me when I say they’re pretty hard to come by.

I avoided the portrait for as long as possible. I knew it was a good idea, and a great, generous offer from Flic, but I just couldn’t bear the thought. Then a nasty and incredibly vain thought crossed my mind: the longer I wait, the older I’ll be. Yes, I’m sorry to say this exact thought not only crossed my mind but firmly lodged itself there. It’s winter skin, you see. It does that to me. Then I thought, not only am I aging every day that I defer, what if I get pregnant? Then I’ll be old AND fat!! Oh no!! I was on that phone quick smart. How’s today, Flic? Tomorrow? No? How about right this instant? Stay where you are, I’m on my way!

Okay, I’m embellishing, but you get my drift. Suddenly the portrait session became a matter of some urgency. I wanted it sooner rather than later, and a few weeks ago, we locked in a date: yesterday. Now, before you think I’m just the most ego-maniacal freak on the face of the planet for worrying about this, you really need to understand my relationship with photographs. It’s been an ugly, brutal battle from day one. I have friends who are superbly photogenic, and they are so, so lucky never to know the feeling of looking at yourself in a photo and thinking, “Oh, you poor, poor unfortunate.” I literally cannot count the times those words have flashed across my brain even as I recoiled in horror from the photo in question.

Being unphotogenic is painful. Yes, it’s superficial, yes, it’s only skin deep, yes, there are many better, worthier, much more important things to worry about, but it doesn’t change the fact that a really awful photo of yourself is a pretty painful thing to behold, especially if, like me, you generate albums full of them. My palms are sweating just writing about this. It really sucks. And I’m not being falsely modest, either. I’ll champion a half decent photo of myself like it’s going to save lives. I’ll even put it on Facebook. I’m shameless that way because it happens so infrequently I am positively gleeful when one of these horrors actually goes my way. I want the world to know.

But the majority of the time, it is painful from start to finish. Hideous. Unflattering. Drag-like. Do I really look like that? How could you show that to anyone? One of my super photogenic friends put up some photos from her birthday on Facebook, and it was all I could do to stop myself from actually begging her to remove the filthy ugly one she put up of me. She has never in her life experienced the horror of unphotogeneity, so I daresay she hasn’t a clue what it’s like for those of us permanent sufferers. In the photo, she’s the absolute picture of perfection. I look like a man.

So let’s just say Flic concluded at the end of the session yesterday that I had indeed laid down a challenge. Ha ha ha, doesn’t that just say it all? I’m not usually, but yesterday I even became a blinker. Yep, just when I thought I’d really taken it as far as it could go, I found a new area in which to fail. Blink, blink, blink. Click, click, click. It was excruciating for both of us, let’s face it. Yes, in the end we had to open a bottle of wine to try and help me relax. It did perhaps help me a little bit, but then again Flic seemed to struggle with her equipment about a glass in… She took so many photos of me it’s embarrassing. What’s more embarrassing is that I would wager that among them, I’ll be lucky if there are three that aren’t total room silencers.

You know how many people are afraid of public speaking? I don’t have that fear at all. I’ll stand up in front of whoever you like and talk until the curtain drops, but you put a camera in my face, and that’s when my stomach turns. That sickening, anxious, paralysed, feverish thing people experience before delivering a speech? That’s photo time for me. And not without good reason. You’ve heard me say before on this blog that the woman who gave birth to me was a bit of a bitch, but even so, most of my photos are of a face that not even the best mother could love. The mother I had, when last she had the opportunity, actually looked at one and said “Oh, that’s not a very flattering photo. Do you ever take a good photo?” Well, funnily enough, you know what? I’ve taken a damn sight more since she’s been out of the frame.

(this blog is written with great love and thanks to my dear sis-in-law, Flic, who worked so hard yesterday trying to get me to relax. If anyone can take a good photo of me, it’s you, and thanks for trying!!)



  1. kate said,

    Ah sister dear, that is why I prefer the other side of the camera!! I do the blink thing too!!

  2. doctordi said,

    Good strategy! It’s incredible to me that some people make it all look so effortless. Half their luck!

  3. Rosy said,

    So when do we get to see the pictures!?!?!?!?

  4. doctordi said,

    So how does NEVER grab you??!!??!!

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