In the eye of the camera

Turns out, the easier it is to make pictures of you come out pretty, the easier it is to get people to take pretty pictures of you. I still can't decide if that's poetically appropriate, or one of life's little ironies.

If you had asked me when I was fifteen if I'd considered working as a model, I'd have laughed myself stupid. For the first 22 years of my life I was convinced that I was the exact opposite of photogenic. This was because for the first 22 years of my life, I had only ever seen two sets of pictures come out looking at all like me, or at least what people said I looked like in person. One was a set of photos taken by the dance studio where my sister and I took lessons, in costume, in the run-up to a dance recital. (In retrospect, that was a pretty big to-do for a bunch of kids taking dance lessons. I remember very little of it, aside from having the words to a couple of Cole Porter songs lodged permanently in my brain, but the costumes were elaborate, and there was a videographer involved, which was kind of a big deal in 1986.) The other were my high school graduation photos, which I resolutely refused to have taken at all unless my parents paid for proper portraits, complete with retouching, on the grounds that if they wanted something to remember me by, I did not want it to be the goofy hideousness that was my every school picture from kindergarten on up.

The portraits people made quite a fuss over me. That really ought to have sunk in. It didn't, of course, because I was not quite eighteen, and nothing sinks in when you're not quite eighteen. The best they could do was get me to glance vaguely at the proofs sheet. I was already so accustomed to looking like a blotchy pink alien monstrosity that, honestly, if I had to go over a whole sheet of me looking nothing like I did in the mirror, I probably would have called the whole thing off. I assumed that since both sets of photos were expensive and took a very long time to get, that I could thank the airbrush artists for making me not look ludicrous.

The problem is actually two-fold. One is that I'm apparently tricky to light. I've had more than one photographer confess kind of shyly that I'm the first real redhead he's shot, and then spend twenty minutes futzing with the white balance and light levels on his camera. I'm about two shades darker than typing paper, which makes me my own reflector -- it's very easy to blow out the image, and while that does do interesting things, especially with the right makeup, most photographers kind of want to be able to see my face in at least some of the photos they take. Candids taken with disposable flash cameras tend to make me look very oddly pink.

The other, as I discovered, is that school portraits are the $20 blowjobs of the photography industry. They're not supposed to be good. They're supposed to be cheap and quick. Everybody is stuck in front of the same light with the same background, the guy with the camera snaps two or three times, and they kick you off the chair for the next kid. Getting a school photo that looks nice is like getting a passport photo that looks like you -- a happy accident, but not to be counted on.

So if you think you photograph terribly, buck up! You may just know incredibly shitty photographers! I have innumerable very lovely pictures of me cluttering up my hard drive these days, but I still think I look awful in photos of, like, other people's birthday parties.

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