Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Picture this (don't. I'll kick off)

Me and cameras have never really got on.

While others are entirely at ease with being on captured on film (or nowadays, should that be screen?), I've spent my life avoiding having my photo taken. Even as a child I'd often be seen running away from the clicking lens; stubbornly covering my face or bursting into tears when my parents managed to snap me unawares.

Thankfully, the urge to have a huge tantrum faded over the years. But point a camera at me now and I still shrivel a bit inside; becoming the picture of awkwardness instead of the confident 28 year old I might have pegged myself as minutes earlier.

It's just I've never really known what to do. I become instantly aware of my face, of the attention being on me, of needing to brush that front bit of my hair down and produce the perfect pose, or worse - much to my guilt - having that sinking feeling that those next to me will inevitably look better.

Although these feelings go through my mind, I still smile, pull a funny face, grab a friend, get into the moment, whatever. I'll try to act like I'm not bothered whether the result's good or bad. You won't find me zooming in and inspecting the damage, or demanding a re-take so that improvements can be made; mostly because I'm never sure what I'd do differently the second time.

Where photos were once pinned on bedroom walls and framed as good, bad and comically terrible memories, on show for only those we invited in to see, now we live in a different world.

We're defined - online, at least - by the profile pictures we choose to represent us. Photo editing apps like the iPhone's Instagram capitalise on this need to show our best side at all times. We're given filters, fading and flashes of brilliant white to transform our faces and surroundings into something that's, at times, almost unrecognisable from reality.

Instagram smooths away the bad bits, fading them into sepia, giving images a nostalgic, wistful, aged look they're not old enough to have. Defining features are either blanked out or enhanced. An overcast, rainy day is given a romantic blur with a hint of warmth that wasn't there. A blemished face is made deathly pale against dark, vivid eyes.

At a later date, I imagine a generation of children wondering where our faces went, and pondering what we really looked like in our twenties.

For a camera-phobe like myself, Instagram and the like should be the answer to all my worries. Except my impulse to cringe at photos of myself extends even to the flattering ones, after all: what does one do with a nice photo these days if you don't feel confident enough to share it?

To publicly show off these nice photos feels strange; it's like my brain hasn't yet caught up with the 21st century need to have to show a lot of people enhanced images of my face.

Didn't that used to be considered - perhaps, maybe, slightly - a little bit vain?
My aversion to the endless stream of flattering self-portraits in my online feeds is probably less down to genuine concern for those who need that all important "like", and more because I don't have the confidence to do it myself.

And sometimes, I don't know which side of the Instagrammed fence I'd rather be on.

My childhood aversion to the camera remains, but at least I've conceded one thing from my parent's covert tactics - that the best photos will always be those you don't know are being taken.


Anonymous said...

It's funny, (or not, maybe), but this camera obscurity seems very common for girls although the tendency is always to go to one extreme or the other: mugs up and shoves their face in every possible photograph - or ducks like a vampire's shadow when a photo-op looms.

My sister only ever concedes to photos when she's horribly drunk - which, of course means there are mostly only photos of her glassy-eyed and slightly disheveled (which is not her normal look, honest).

I'm ambivalent when it comes to photos of myself - I am an inveterate narcissist but also a lazy one - but, curiously, there are very very few pictures of me as a little boy. My parents clearly thought I was an ugly child.

Nowadays I have a slightly different problem in that my picture and name turns up in odd places, often with microphone and/or script in hand, generally at a poetry or art thing, almost always looking slightly ranting psychotic and nearly every time without me realizing my picture was being taken (denying me the ability to sweetly sparkle). At the bigger events there can be multiple angles and instgramographers with the corresponding increased likelihood that they will immortalize me unflatteringly and in a way which is incongruous to my better-than-reality mental self-image.

Then they tag it on Facebook and share it on Twitter..all helpfully tagging me.

Thank the lord an ugly baby boy means an attractive adult man or there'd be hell to pay... ;)

Agent said...

I don't like my photo taken.. they always seem to find a bad angle or wait until I've got a weird expression or something. About one photo in a hundred looks ok, and that tends to wind up as my default photo everywhere until the next one comes along.

Still, I used to work with somebody who had had to convince her mother that there really were such things as "unflattering mirrors". So I guess it could be worse.

The idea of a service to allow you to take photos of yourself and then edit them before you share them is an unpleasant one to me. As if airbrushed models don't cause enough body image problems, now they're trying to make it the norm that ALL photos get 'shopped before being seen?

Having said that, here's a tip: Moving your face just as the photo is about to be taken, even with today's cameras, will usually result in it being safely blurred out.

James said...

Candid photos are always the best. I skip over pretty all of those in which someone is purposely posing, especially if in front of some sort of 'look where I am / what I'm doing' set.

And if you are intent of taking personal 'memory' photos then I say keep them for your own personal viewing not inflict them on others.

Anonymous said...

Must admit I'm a shameless insta-whore. Mostly because I don't think I've ever had a decent photo taken by someone else of me in my life. I too inevitably know before the damn thing has flashed that I will look lumpen faced, thick-necked and pulling some stupid expression. I can't help it. It's my photo face and I *hate* it.

Hence I have taken some half decent shots of myself to sort of counterbalance the fugly.

This made me laugh, I'm glad I'm not the only one who hates photos. Although - sorry commenters on here - I am probably one of the shameless posers of which you speak. *hangs head* guilty. as. charged.

Stephane said...

Being the son a photographer, I never had an aversion to having my picture taken.

However with social media you feel as though you're trying to sell an image of how your life, and we're always looking for that profile picture or obscure art to convince us and others that we're creative.

I for one miss the smell of a darkroom, or the trip to 'snappy snaps' to pick up film prints - hoping that the 26 shots from my instant camera actually came out.

The Unbearable Banishment said...

It's more than just "a bit" vain. Things are different now. Octogenarian actress Betty White hosted Saturday Night Live last year. Her best joke was a slam at Facebook. "When I was young, looking through someone's vacation photos was a form of punishment."

Gorilla Bananas said...

I emphasize with you entirely - it's incredibly bad manners to take someone's picture without their prior consent. I've debagged several wildlife photographers for attempting to do that.

Ellie said...

You are more honest than most would be ... worrying that the others in the foto will look better ... it is only too human. I'm in your camp girl; I wish I was all free and cool in front of the camera and at ease with showing off my 'good pics' (there aren't many). Good company to be in, I suppose!

Please Don't Eat With Your Mouth Open said...

Punctuation - you're right, it does seem to be a girl thing. If a bloke was to post endless photos of themselves no doubt they would be publicly admonished for it. Not so with the ladies...more pressure, perhaps?

Agent - ah, yes - the tactical blur. I know that one. Also, the tactical "put it n black and white mode, yeah?"

James - I think it'll be quite nice to look back at real photos when we're all old and grey. History, init?

Amelia - Ha, no judgement here, props for the honesty! I too have my own bank of black and white photos, I just can't bring myself to share them as they look so markedly different to "me". Wish I could in a way.

Stephane - the idea of selling an image of yourself is so true; everyone has to be seen as having so much fun, all the time, and looking nothing short of hot in the meantime. I miss film.

Unbearable - I love that quote. I'm glad you think it's vain. It's all I want to shout whenever someone posts a stream of selfs portraits. Alas, I want to keep my friends.

Gorilla - and therein lies the appeal of living in captivity, surely; some zoo inclosures ban photography altogether. I wish the same rules applied to clubs and bars ;)

Ellie - excellent company. I favour photos where you can only see half my face. Hair is a lifesaver.


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