I wanted to send some photos of me to a friend we're meeting this weekend, which is always rather traumatic.
Photos of myself, I mean. I hate them. I am not photogenic. My friend Diane and I have spent far too much time analyzing why neither of us looks good in photos. We think it has to do with the fact that we both have soft features, as opposed to hard or sharp ones. People with sharp features often look better in photos than in life. In life, their features are too sharp. In pictures, these features are softened and attractively accentuated (or distorted) by something magical in a camera. Let's call it the P factor. P for prettification.
For people with soft features, who can be easier on the eyes of the beholder in real life, face-to-face encounters, this same factor makes them look out of focus and too soft on camera. There is not enough there there. You can usually spot these people because they are either looking away from the camera (or running away, if they're fast) or, if they are looking at it, their eyes are closed or they are squinting in a most unflattering way.
Shamefully, this hatred of my own photographic image has caused me to do some horrible things over the years, like hunt down and rip up photos of myself that I hate. And that's a lot of photos. This is my personal, secret search and destroy mission, and I carry it out every time I visit my mother. I line my pockets with bad photos and then cut them up in private. Sometimes I burn them if I feel there is a chance someone will come along and "recoller les morceaux." This is bad.
One problem I think is that I lack instruction in how to photograph well. How to look relaxed in front of a camera (as opposed to panicked or suspicious, neither of which photographs well as far as a "look" goes), how to look into that lens and seduce it. I have read articles on the subject over the years, and none have helped at all. I've tried everything, and the result is that in photos I look like I'm trying everything and it's just not working for me.
There is one photo of me that I actually like. I like it because it looks like me. Or rather, it looks the way I hope I look to the world. It was taken by my ex-daughter-in-law. I am holding her baby. I am lost in thought, probably not listening to whatever is being said. It is an unbearably hot day. My hair is not clean, and is pulled back in one of those clip thingies. I am not wearing any makeup at all. My arms are bare and white--after all, it is late summer.
I cling to this photo and try to understand what it has captured that I recognize and accept as me. I'm not smiling or frowning. I'm not scowling; I'm not talking or eating or gesticulating. I am just sitting there, pretending to listen. And it works.
Moving on to all the other photos I haven't destroyed, they don't work because I am between a frown and a smile, with nowhere to go. When I smile, it seems that invisible fingers point to this one tooth I have that is totally non-aligned. It is crowded behind one of my front teeth. I used to hope nobody noticed it. But one day I was having lunch with the Belgian boyfriend of my Cuban friend Juan. I was talking, and he was staring at my mouth. Finally he said, in response to my brilliant comment about French politics or culture or some other lofty subject, "You know, it would be easy enough to fix that tooth of yours." I don't think I ever forgave him for that. And if I did, let me formally retract the pardon.
The first photo above is the acceptable one. The second is a stand-in for all the bad photos of me. We took it at my friend Caroline's one night, using her mac. It has a feature that allows you to take distorted photos. I actually prefer this deliberately distorted photo to all the inadvertantly distorted photos of me taken by well-meaning people over my lifetime. Seriously, people. You know who you are. It isn't your fault that you take such bad photos of me; blame it on the P factor. Conveniently, the P factor could be the "Peggy" factor.