Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Lost Art of Portraiture

Some people hate having photos taken of themselves. Forgive me- but especially women. They see the lens, and fear the click. It’s understandable- these days a photo is an afterthought, an accidental moment caught in pixels, deletable, sure, but more likely to appear on Facebook, or another online album. In the olden days, (lets call them the ‘80s), a snapshot had to be printed out, then selected- remember booboo bins?- and the whole process was so tedious that we sat with undeveloped films in drawers and cameras for months at a time. When we did get around to developing them, we considered it an act of pride to migrate the best of those into an album. A photograph was something special, a talisman to contain an instant of your life, and in the small rectangle to summarise memories, dreams and reflections.

Fast forward: Now we whip out our phones and digital cameras that are only slightly bigger than an old roll of film used to be and click the shutters like we are pumping a semi-automatic rifle like the deranged and terrified troops at the start of Saving Private Ryan. Within an instant, we are uploading them from our phones onto the internet, where anyone in the world can see them. We tag them unthinkingly, and in some formats, this means that all five hundred of your closest ‘friends’ will see you with your eyes half closed, your accidental post-real-smile-rictus-grin, or a tell-tale glistening just inside your left nostril.

Worse than that: the tense ‘I’m trying to look like me’ face that you adopt for passport and identity document photographs. The ones you know you will never be able to show anyone without adding the caveat that ‘passport photos are always dreadful'. I know that feeling. In my ID book, my photo is of a wide-eyed (I was on drugs) nineteen-year old with hair, my passport has a mugshot of some stranger with a very ill-conceived goatee beard.

As if that weren’t enough, we can now scan in all the hideous photos from our childhoods- the ones that should have been booboo’ed, and remind everyone of the horrors of hair and fashion that belong to previous decades. And those self-taken photos (see above) with the weird camera shooting down your arm angle... Lovely.

Whatever happened to the old way of posing for photos, holding those poses for minutes because of the time it took to take a shot? See the photo I’m holding? Those two guys with the ramrod straight postures are relatives of mine. Pocket watches, hats, and a polar bear rug. Nary a beer bottle in sight. Those were the days. My brother complained (justifiably) when I put pictures of him up on the internet- they were horrifying ones- so I’m more careful now. I also found out that photos of my children in the bath got a creepy amount of hits. (Check that put if you have ever put up photos like that- I promise you, they’ll be taken down in an instant).

Still, I’m not complaining if people stick pictures of me up- at least I feel a bit more like I exist, even though I am a lopsided, crosser and older version of how I feel. I need a body double. An avatar. Someone who only has a good side…
Now. I have my webcam on, and have created some new software, so as you read this, hold still…. and… smile…


  1. I take photos, don't have them taken. But I do like what Jodi Picoult had to say about photography. She said a photo is a record of the fact that you were happy, and loved and that the person taking the picture wanted to put down everything, to record, and watch that. I liked the sentiment.

  2. @TBFKAMP: Finally figured out how to spell 'known'? :-) Happy? I don't recall that. Is it a feeling?

  3. Welcome back. You've just been given the Superior Scribbler Award - stop by my blog for details.

  4. Ooh! Thanks, MDL, I'll do your reciprocal post shortly...

  5. I try to be careful about who's pictures I post anywhere... but I have no problem having my picture taken!

  6. @angel: it is weid when old photos surface, though...


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