Saturday, 23 November 2013

Photogenics: Sometimes the Camera Does Lie

I know it is hugely controversial to suggest this, but excessive data surveillance may not be an entirely bad thing. Having realised that our Kiwi passports run out early in the New Year, we were very pleased to discover that we could renew them on-line. This is probably due to the fact that the New Zealand Immigration Department can find out anything they need to about us, from the fact that we pay our taxes to the books we check out of the library. Really, this doesn’t bother me. I am not ashamed to read young adult fiction or to vote for Libby Trickett on Dancing with the Stars.

Most happily of all, however, is the fact that one can now take one’s own photo – or rather, get one’s partner to do it in the kitchen – I’m not part of the selfie generation. Incidentally, is it just me (I know it isn’t) or does the word ‘selfie’ conjure up unwanted images of onanism? (I would recommend looking that up in an old-fashioned dictionary rather than googling it.) As long as it is the right size, you’ve got your eyes open and no encroaching shadows or blurriness, it should be accepted. You no longer have to go to those ‘special places’ (post offices or photo booths) and get them done, then take them to a judge or a veterinary surgeon who you have known since birth so that they can swear that it is a genuine likeness of you and all that.

Except, it is unlikely to be a genuine likeness, because you are still not allowed to smile. Now, admittedly, when I come off a long haul flight during which some demon spawn has been howling and battering the back of my seat for the past 36 hours, I’m not generally laughing and joking and distributing bonhomie to all and sundry. But smiling, at least a little, is my general default setting – especially when meeting new people, even if they are customs officers.

When I am not permitted to smile (i.e. in passport photos) Him Outdoors says I look like Myra Hindley, which is somewhat unfair, and also, I suspect, not conducive to ease of entry at passport control. I think I, like almost everyone, look better when smiling and animated. Some people look good in pictures, and these are people who are considered to be photogenic. Let’s take this to mean that they are bland and two-dimensional in real life.

Some of the most beautiful contemporary women – Kate Winslett; Toni Colette; Meryl Streep; Natalie Portman; Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge – can look almost ugly in photographs. I believe this is because they are known for their animation, warmth and fun-loving personalities. Sitting still and posing isn’t their forte, and neither should it be. The more lively, energetic and vibrant you are, the more likely you are to be unphotogenic.

Once you think you are unphotogenic, it is doubtful that you are going to relax when anyone is around with a camera. You will probably have a lot of pictures of you gurning, looking away or holding your arms in awkward positions as you try to block the shot. None of these are going to be pretty, and that can only make the situation worse. Some of my favourite pictures of me are from my wedding when I was having such a great day and was so happy that I didn’t really care what I looked like. I relaxed.

Also, we had a fabulous photographer (Dennis Orchard) who was twice UK wedding photographer of the year. My other favourite photo of me, which I use for head shots at theatrical enterprises, was taken by a friend and professional photographer (Dan Childs) who has a wonderful manner and delightful way of putting camera-shy people at their ease. And this is a major point – cameras these days are ubiquitous, and they are often really good quality. But just because everyone has a camera on their phone, it doesn’t make them a photographer. Photographers understand light, angles, focus, composition and settings. And they also understand people and their feelings and anxieties. So often people are ready to blame themselves for being a bad subject, but they rarely blame the person on the other side of the lens – it takes two to photo!

Research I have read on these matters claims that symmetrical features make beautiful people who make good images. This means that no one who plays ball sports or fell out of a tree as a child is apt to look their best in photographs. I’m not really saying that every photogenic person is plain in real life, but I am saying that most exuberant, expressive, and adventurous types are probably going to be unphotogenic. This includes most of my friends, and I love you all. Here’s to falling out of trees and laughing about it, even if it means the camera is unkind!

1 comment:

blurooferika said...

Great post, Kate! On the topic of smiling in photos, I find it almost impossible *not* to. A photographer friend of mine has perfected not smiling for a photo and urges me to practice so that she can take my portrait, but I think I just look hostile if I don't smile. That, and purposefully not smiling makes the process feel stilted, unnatural, and overly serious.

You're spot on about how the right photographer can put you at ease, though. Thank goodness for that!