Sunday, 27 June 2010

Do you hate being photographed? (2)

How to let Posterity win over Vanity
There’s a large chunk of my life during which there are very few photographs of me – during my thirties and forties.  Friends and relations would do their best to wheedle me into posing in front of the camera, and if it had got to that stage in the conversation it would be downright embarrassing – not to say churlish - to say no, but I tried not to let it get that far.  [As you know if you follow this blog, the links on the right “A History in Pictures” lead to a lot of old photographs, most of which by the way were taken against my will].
Dearest Granny in c.1975 when she was 90.  She used to hate being photographed ("I'm just an old lady, who would want a terrible old photograph of me?") but put up with it because she understood that her children and grandchildren wanted to have a record of her.
I used to suss out the situation in advance:  if anybody appeared with a camera (not many in those days), I quietly disappeared or stood upwind of it.  If I couldn’t get out of it then I found someone to stand behind.  However I’m short (5’4”, or 1.61m) so tended to get pushed to the front.  So then I’d grab a child, a pet, a box, a wardrobe... to stick in front of me or on my lap, and if at all possible sit down.  The last resort was to wear a heavy overcoat or anorak, and act anonymous.  I found it all nerve-wracking.  By the time I met John, who was forever trying to photograph or video me, I revealed my true paranoia, and sometimes behaved quite poisonously towards him if he approached me with a camera, which hurt and puzzled him.
And now I look sadly at the few pictures he managed to get and realise sickeningly that I didn’t look all that bad.  That I wasted the self-centred years of youth agonising about how I would be seen in the future, whether people would look at my young plump pictures and gasp with horror or laugh in derision.  Instead, I should have asked myself how it would be if by then I was still plump.  Of course I would have recoiled in shock and disbelief at the prospect of an overweight middle age, but someone should have said to me –
“Caroline, if you are refusing to be photographed now because you can’t bear the thought in the distant future of seeing fat photos of yourself, you are for one effectively air-brushing yourself out of your own history, and for another, what if  instead of fat and twenty, you’re now fat and fifty?  Instead of being able to say ‘didn’t I at least look young?’ you wouldn’t be saying anything at all ...because there would be nothing to look at.”
I would probably have replied “But I’m not refusing to be photographed ever again – it’s just that I don’t want to be photographed NOW.  When I lose this weight I’ll pose for as many photos as you like.”
Except that I didn’t.  I thought I would lose it, I thought it wouldn’t be a problem – this overweight was merely temporary.  And I’m by no means unusual – I could name dozens of women I know personally who have reacted in exactly the same way, and young women now who are saying precisely the same thing.  I drifted on, vaguely promising future photographs which never materialised, and so many opportunities were lost.

Xmas 2000, my sister in the middle showing a rare smile, my niece on the right, newly in love and radiantly happy, and the roast beef on the left is me (the clenched fist betraying the self-consciousness I felt).  My mother loved the picture of her three girls, and wanted to use it as a Christmas card the following year, which horrified me beyond words.  She noted my upset and didn’t mention it again.
I’m sorry I ducked out of informal family portraits through my own selfishness and that I annoyed people on a regular basis for no good reason.  I didn’t realise the most important principle here, and that is this – that as you get older, your figure becomes less important and your face is what people really see.  Yes, your young face was plump... you had double chins...  BUT it was smooth, unlined…. young.  Don’t risk there being no record of your youth, however plain and fat you think you are.
It was a relief when I became interested in photography and was able to be the one who did the photographing, and I could hide behind the lens instead of feeling that I was its victim.  As time went by I learned about the subject and got interested in candid portraiture. 
Imperceptibly, as I assimilated the principles of what makes a good non-studio portrait, I began to realise that overweight was simply another element to factor into the decision-making process when planning it, along with poor skin, large noses, poor teeth and so on.  Leaving Photoshop aside, the camera can’t make you thin or repair the imperfections on your face, but there are ways of posing and dressing which will make the picture interesting and people looking at it will admire the image and remark on the overall effect, rather than on the individual aspects of your face.  And that, my friends, is a bloody good compromise.  It’s there for the record, vanity and posterity have been taken care of, and everybody is (reasonably) happy.
So here’s what I’ve noticed over and over again when subjects see their photographs –
When you look at pictures of yourself and you wrinkle up your nose and say “Oh that’s a terrible picture, that’s not ME!” – you need to consider whether it is your vanity speaking.  Yes it is you, and sorry, it’s just that you’re probably a bit less gorgeous than you thought you were… (and also be aware that you normally see the mirror image of yourself, and in a photograph everything is “the wrong way round” and therefore a bit less familiar).  If we were to capture your image looking windswept and interesting, your double chin smoothed out and a sparkle in your eye – you would say “Yes, that’s definitely me, I like that”.  Yes it’s you, but it could either have been a lucky shot or the photographer knew what she/he was doing.  The fact is they’re both you. 
And here’s another fact, whether you believe it now, when you’re young, or not:  people don’t notice you as much as you think they do.  If they’re thinking “that’s a terrible picture”, what it really means is that it’s badly taken, not that you look fat.  So it’s up to you to ensure that a few basic rules are applied, and that the resulting image is the one you consider to be “the real you”.  I’d like to comment in the next post on how to achieve this.
Photo Finish
from Lonicera's non-digital archive
Pictures of Valencia and Chiva, Spain
Mum and Dad retired in Argentina and opted to live in Spain for the remainder of their lives.  They moved to a village called Chiva, near the provincial capital of Valencia (on the Mediterranearn coast in middle Spain) in 1988, and were to live in a very pleasant garden suburb sort of estate for the next 17 years or so.  They had a house with a swimming pool, and it was lovely for us all to be able to see them more often because they were closer to the UK, and to enjoy the countryside and the beaches, while getting to know the Spanish neighbours and speak the language regularly.
Valencia railway station

Mosaic on wood - pictures throughout the station in many languages.

I visited several times a year, but always on my birthday in mid June, and always for Christmas.  This is a Christmas concert at the Palau de la Música, with a massive choir consisting of people of all ages from children upwards, singing seasonal Spanish songs.  With such a variety in age of the voices, the sound they created was stunning.
I was always impressed by the collective consciousness of the 'reason for the season', with commercial interests coming second.  It made for a lovely atmosphere.

Valencia is full of old derelict buildings which desperately need restoring, though the neglect gives it an air of history in the present - as if this balcony had not been touched since the Spanish Romeo and Juliet declaimed from it...

Going 20 kms or so west of Valencia towards Madrid you come to the village of Chiva

The Spanish delight with water is said to have originated with the Moors who occupied this part of Spain in the middle ages, and it has meant that every village has beautiful fountains.  This is the one in Chiva, with a bullrun going on in the panel, and the water spouts below...

Here are the spouts seen from one end - the plastic chairs at the end are part of a café where we always used to go to have coffees and cold drinks - it became a ritual to do this on every visit...

...and we would watch the locals come and fill up their buckets (why, when they had running water in their homes.... who knows, I never dared ask)

The Valencia area is famed for its citrus fruits, which grew in fields all around us.  The growers didn't mind you walking through the groves, or even picking some fruit for your own consumption, but the 'rule' was that no bags were allowed.  You could take home only what you could carry in your pockets. 

The oranges are huge and sweet with a kick in the tail - just a bit of acidity which leaves you wanting more.

A common sight on the rooftops

Gandía is a seaside resort an hour south of Valencia favoured by Madrileños, and in June it was deserted because the Spanish summer holidays are in July and August.


Sunday, 20 June 2010

Do you hate being photographed? (1)

Vanity winning over posterity

If like me you’re overweight and self-conscious about it, I’d like to ask you a series of questions -

Do you refuse to be photographed?  

Have you destroyed pictures of yourself because you think they made you look ugly/fat?

Was the reason in both cases because you felt ashamed of how you looked?

(There’s nothing wrong with that up to a point – in many ways this is how we improve ourselves, because we hate the way we are.  But…)

Did you feel ashamed because you think it means people will see you have no self-control? ………

………Or because it showed?  You probably mutter to yourself that if you had a secret drink or a sex addiction problem at least nobody in the street would notice as you went about your business, they wouldn’t whisper about you behind your back, etc. 

Is it true to say that part of your self-loathing is that overweight is such a visible failure, a form of constant and relentless process of public humiliation?

So now tell me:  how exactly does air-brushing yourself out of your own history - which is what you're doing by destroying your photographs - help resolve this process of self-torture? 

Do you really think that in years to come when you’re long gone, your grandchildren will say to each other “we had a grandmother, apparently she was attractive but we’re not sure, because there are no photos of her and we have no idea what she looked like – but she must have been fat, or worse, so it’s just as well”. 

Or how about….

“We have some photos of our grandmother – she was slim and pretty when she was young.  For the rest of her life, all we’ve got to go on is what our mother tells us – she says Granny was plumper than in those pictures, but attractive.  We have to take her word for it, but we wish we could see for ourselves what she looked like when we were little.”

And you’ll be up there sitting on a fluffy cloud, berating yourself – “why the hell didn’t someone stop me from being so selfish and vain?  I want to live on through my family and there’s so little of me left…”

If you read bandit blogs and you find it useful therapy to interact with bloggers who are going through the same difficult process, I put it to you that it’s not only about managing to lose the weight and sharing the euphoria with the rest of us – though it’s part of it and we all rejoice or commiserate together – it’s also about addressing the hang-ups the overweight has caused us, and by examining them and turning them this way and that, see if we can beat them and fight our way back to a normal self-image.

We shouldn’t punish ourselves for being less attractive than we would like by not permitting images of us to be in circulation.  I strongly believe that by doing so we are not taking responsibility for our bodies.  And this means we do not love ourselves.

Lets throw off our burdens of guilt, punishment and self-consciousness, and say to the world “this is the way I am, and it is your loss if you cannot see beyond the shell of my body.”

The first step is to look people in the eye and stand by the bad photographs as well as the good.

In the next post I’ll put my money where my mouth is.


Photo Finish -
From Lonicera's non-digital archive

To make you smile...  these pictures won't produce the famous "Laugh Out Loud" that bloggers are so fond of talking about - but they made me smile when I took them, and I hope they do you too.

The first two were taken at an open day somewhere during the era when robots were all the rage.  This entertainer was superb, though clearly the child in the second photo wouldn't have agreed, to the embarrassment of his father...

(I think he was pretending he was going to take away
the child's tennis ball, don't you think??)

This one below of John was taken for a camera club competition
and I wanted to call it - go on, have a guess..............
yup, "In the Dog House", complete with correct expression.

Weston-super-Mare, a breezy day on the pier. 
Look closely at the sign.  No, closer. 
Three words are distinguishable on it, not two...

The next five were taken at St Ives, in Cornwall.  I'd love to have any of these three as my address.  It would have been wonderful to get several girls to pose in a queue under this first one...

Seagulls are a pain in St Ives, there are so many... probably because there is too much fast food around, and they all get fat on greasy chips.  However, the average British person will not hesitate when making the decision between obeying a sign and feeding animals and birds, and the evidence of this civil disobedience was all around this sign, so I probably should have stepped back to include it.

'Ere - where's me chips then?

This last one was taken at Lyme Regis, in Dorset.  This is no grabbed shot - the cat was clearly quite at home,  waiting for scraps, and some kind person had even put a tea towel on the windowsill so his bottom wouldn't get cold...


Monday, 14 June 2010

57 – Special, but not lucky (yet)

It’s my 57th birthday today, Tuesday 15th June.  Back in early 2009 when I was newly banded I had this fanciful idea that I had about 57kg to lose, which was exactly half what I weighed at the time, and wouldn’t it be just perfect and right if by my 57th birthday in June 2010 I had shed the same figure in kilos.  And this dear bandit friends is why I don’t set goals, because failing to meet them belittles the fact that actually I’m pleased that I’ve lost 23kg since being banded, even if it is less than half the way there. 
Back in September 2008 when I was deeply unhappy and didn’t know the band existed, if you had told me that I would be sitting here writing about having lost 23kg, I would have wondered if I had died and gone to heaven.  Now that I’ve put that feeling of utter despair behind me, I just wish I was stronger and could proceed a little faster. ..
I’m not complaining though – I think I’m probably as near the sweet spot as I’m likely to get.  The reason it feels different is because on weekday evenings as I work or play on my computer, I’m hardly aware that I haven’t eaten, and in the past I’ve always been a heavy meal after 9 p.m. sort of person.  All I’ve got to do now is to avoid the high calorie foods which go down easily such as biscuits and milky drinks.  (And not make lemon sponge with butter icing to take to work for my birthday, and lick the spoon too often).
My birthday dinner was last Saturday evening at a fish restaurant (I prefer steak, but I’m trying to de-programme) and I had lobster as a special treat.  (Actually in flavour it’s just a socking great prawn, isn’t it?).  I enjoyed it, but admit that the ice-cream with toffee and chocolate sauce and served in a brandy snap basket was even better.  Anyway, nuff said.
I wonder where on this essential journey I'll be on my 58th birthday.

Photo Finish -
from Lonicera's non-digital archive

Churches - always marvellous subjects to photograph, from stained glass windows up to dreaming spires, and back to shadowy corners.  I dislike using flash, essential though it is in certain situations, and enjoy the challenge of working out how best to use my camera to get an interesting picture without camera shake.  These images were slides which I have scanned, and I'm glad I kept the underexposed ones, because with the aid of the computer I have been able to lighten the darkness in a way I could never have foreseen back in the early nineties when they were taken.

Bristol  (I regret I'm not sure which church)

St Mary Redcliffe, Bristol

Church of St Peter & St Paul, Bristol
(Note - blue is stained glass, not electric light)

Bristol Cathedral?

Glastonbury Abbey ruins

Another church in Glastonbury, seen from the Abbey ruins

Bath Abbey

Selworthy church, Devon



Monday, 7 June 2010


I’ve been thinking about them lately.

As I struggled to fight my way up and down the pool yesterday afternoon, I realised I was getting more and more stressed.  It was about 4.30, when at the shallow end every child in Portishead was exercising its lungs and its muscles, as doting parents looked on clearly considering it their darlings’ right to lunge after whatever had been flung by their friends without looking to left or right.  Courtesy to other swimmers was definitely for sissies.

Meanwhile the (mostly) male adults steamed up and down doing the crawl – but today their arms didn’t slice cleanly through the water, their legs pump below the surface with barely a ripple.  Oh no, they thwacked it with palm entering the water sideways, sending sprays of water in all directions, while their legs produced a wake of which a powerboat would have been proud.

Young girls verging on puberty congregated in rings round about the middle of the pool, too busy talking to swim, excitedly casting sidelong glances at the flushed, acne’d boys nearby whose hormones were raging so madly from being in close proximity to nearly nude babes, that believing themselves to be cool and aloof, they shouted and cavorted around them.

The bored teenage lifeguard sat on his very high chair, tanned and resplendent in his scrambled egg coloured uniform, carefully tousled curly black hair occasionally tossed back in seemingly casual manner, his jaws exercising remorselessly on chewing gum.  Every so often to bring a little variety into his life, his whistle on its long lead was spun round his index finger.  There was no danger of it being blown to bring any bad behaviour to the attention of the perpetrator – unless it had in fact been used earlier and the previous morsel of chewed gum had got firmly stuck there, rendering it useless.

The waves crashed about my head; my breast stroke was more like my best choke, and I only managed 20 lengths in the end – being angry is so exhausting.  As I was changing back into my clothes a thin stream of something trickled into my cubicle from the next one where a child was being nagged by his mother to hurry up and get dressed.  It may have been muddy water, it may not, but I couldn’t wait to get out of the bloody place.

All the while I tried to think about other things – for example, some of the sad blog posts I’ve read recently; it’s been humbling to learn how some bandits are striving to understand what has brought them to this, the greatest endeavour of their lives – to shed the baggage of the past and the excess baggage on their bodies, and with the help of a piece of plastic prepare themselves for a better future, for everything will be better if they can only feel normal and have the choice to be either invisible - or gorgeously visible. 

And this applies to me too of course, though I don’t come close to some of the terrible past situations endured by other bandits.  I admit I’m frequently not on top form for various reasons which I don’t feel I can blog about, and the hardest thing to come to terms with has been the fact that comfort food simply can’t be an option any more.  Food (seemingly) offers instant comfort, and there’s no substitute. 

The only solution I’ve worked out for myself is the knowledge that the comfort will come in the future, if I only apply the rules now.  I know that for every stone I lose I will feel much better, and more importantly, physically and mentally stronger.  I must have faith, and patience.

I’ve also read Sandy Lee’s recent posts in which she explores the difficulties of self-control in eating habits, when a fill is the only solution.

As I swam up and down this afternoon, reflecting on these things and trying to leave the anger behind (unsuccessfully, you may have gathered), I thought about mantras, and how I have a few which I try to use in stressful moments – and the fact that sometimes they work.  (Although repeating over and over “You will all get out of the pool NOW”, conspicuously didn’t).

I thought I’d share them with you, and ask you if you have any yourselves.  (The showy presentation of them, by the way, is just an excuse to use more of my own pictures, and to see if I could do it.)

I look longingly at the high calorie foods I love so much, and I tell myself

at any time...

My (still highly unsatisfactory and depressing) image in the mirror –

Having eaten too big a meal –

And the one I use most these days when I’m feeling low, and is therefore the most important to me – I whisper it to myself many times a day, particularly the final sentence.  I’ve always thought of it as being in the third person, as if it was someone else telling me this:


Photo Finish –
From Lonicera’s non-digital archive


This is a selection from thousands of pictures taken at rugby matches over a five year period when the teams were Bristol, Bath or England at Twickenham, plus whichever team they were playing.  At Twickenham it was the New Zealand All Blacks (England won the particular time in the early nineties when I was lucky enough to take pictures from the front row).  At local games I was always allowed a privileged position by the touchline because the pictures were destined for the programmes, and I knew the printers.

I'm a bit of a girly photographer - you won't find me taking pictures of the engineering works or machinery which so seem to fascinate the men, and here with rugby I take action shots as much as possible of course, because it's all about drama and following the ball.  However I also love candid portraits, or a study of what makes a typical rugby player.  And - er - if they're handsome or rugged, so much the better, as you'll notice.

There are some extremely grainy - almost impressionistic - images, and I make no excuses for them.  I feel they convey the physicality and the struggle that the game represents, and give the effect of being frozen in time.

Bristol vs Northampton

Bristol vs Harlequins, taken by yours truly
when she spotted a Harlequins player losing his shorts
(well, wouldn't you?)

A juniors game before the main event.
I just love the looks of struggle on their faces.

England vs All Blacks, Twickenham

The "Neanderthal" look - classic rugby...

Northampton player


Simon Shaw, Bristol and England player
who was a junior at Bristol in those days.
I've got a lot of pictures of him...

Phew.  Pass the smelling salts someone.

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