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.



Zanna said...

I don't hate being photographed - I just got used to it - my first husband was a very keen amateur photographer so I spent many hours posing for him while he practised different light settings, camera settings etc. However in common with probably every other woman in the world there are definitely some times I'm more keen to pose than others - and all of them weight related!! And you're so right in everything you say plus if one day we do engage in the battle (and battle it is) of weightloss then how can you see how far you've come if you can't see where you've been? Have a great week Caroline. Zxx

Sandy Lee said...

I so totally agree with everything you said and can't wait for the tricks of the trade. I too avoided the camera for years and am sad that about 5 years are missing from my life. I now look back too and see myself different. I'd give anything to be that "young" again. One thing I want to do when I reach goal is to have a casual portrait done of myself-wrinkles, fat roles and all (since I know they won't be gone). The trick will be to have a good photographer to capture my essence and emotion, because that is what a pro can do. Love the pics from Spain.

Bianca J said...

As always your photograhps are lovely. I too really dislike having my picture taken. As I was gaining weight there was a huge disconnect between the person I thought I looked like and the person that showed up in photographs. I became quite skilled at avoiding the camera. I do regret not capturing some some of those great moments with family and friends. It's a work in progress but I am learning to be happy with now. Your post was spot on.

Tina said...

I'm coming around-I asked three times this week for photo shoots :) Now I still didn't really like the results but at least i was volunteering :) Thanks for noticing my typos-they are fixed now.


amandakiska said...

You are a very talented photographer!

I too avoid being photographed - I'm usually the one behind the camera. But every now and again I'll ask someone to take my pic to, "prove I was there".

Vagabonde said...

Thank you for coming to my blog. We came back from California and I had to write a post. Since then I have been busy catching up with all my friend’s blogs. I read some of your past posts and will have to come back to read more.

I do not have too many pictures of myself from age 30 till now, not because I did not want to be in the pictures, but because I was the only one to take pictures and my husband did not like to take them. In 2000 I had an accident at work where I hurt my knee badly. The doctor did not realize that I had cracked my meniscus (the strong cartilage around the knee.) He gave me Vioxx for a year, a medicine which was banned in the UK. It made me very sick, gave me heart problems (high blood pressure too) and a gain of 45-50 pounds that I have been unable to lose because now I am on other medicines. After a year they realized I had a crack but it was too late to operate they said plus the insurance said they would no longer pay for it, so now I cannot run, nor walk for long period (I have a handicap thing for my car.) I do not like to have pictures taken because of my extra weight, then again, I am the only one taking pictures. My daughter in California just lost 30 pounds by following an internet site called “Hungry Girl.” She told me to give it a try as there are many tips for what to eat or how to cook. Here is the site: I shall look at it after I comment on all my blogs. But you are absolutely right – I remember photographs taken years ago which I thought were terrible because I did not smile right or something else and now when I look at them I just notice how young I was. Here in Georgia there are many “full figure” ladies and so it is not an image problem. But still, I’d like to lose those 45 or 50 pounds (22 kgs.) One trick I have when someone takes a picture of us, like in a restaurant, is to have my husband sitting down and I stand behind him and bend down placing my hands on his shoulders – you can’t see my body nor my double chin! (sorry this is so long.)

Lonicera said...

Zanna, you're so right, I really like the idea that you can't see how far you've come if you can't see where you've been...

Sandy Lee, I too decided long ago that when I reached target I would get someone good at portraiture from my camera club to take squillions of pictures of me in the hope that one of them would be to my liking. Don't know when that'll be though!

Thanks for your comments Bianca J - disconnect is the word, I've never been able to link the image with the person I am inside.

Tina, you're braver than me... John keeps volunteering to take 'during' photos, and I keep putting him off, saying that I'm waiting till the loss is a neat 25 kg - in other words, as far as my post is concerned, it's do as I say and not as I do...

Vagabonde, thanks so much for the visit, and for telling about your own experiences - I do the exact same trick of standing behing my partner John... I had a look at Hungry Girl, and it's an interesting site with loads of ideas. The problem for me is that my coping mechanism with the lapband is to try not to get too interested in recipes and cuisine generally, or rather to spend as little time in the kitchen as possible. I feel better when I'm at the other end of the house where I am now, at my computer.

Photography is a subject I feel strongly about, particularly when I notice that people hate being photographed, so I'd be delighted if the next few posts generate any further discussion. If anybody disagrees with what I say I hope they will say so.


Joyful said...

I totally agree with everything you say but am still not allowing my photo to be taken. I know I've gained weight but it wasn't until I was on recent hols to realize just how much. A friend took numerous photos of me. That plus my own goals have spurred me onto the bike. Keep fingers crossed and say a prayer for me. I'll do the same for you. Now I'm looking forward to the tips in your next post.

Lonicera said...

Joyful, I know exactly what you mean - but don't discount the possibility of yourself in old age looking back at these photos you hate now, and thinking "Look at me, didn't I look YOUNG". If you tear them up now, at that point in the future the youngest generation in your family will say "Why aren't there any pictures of you when you were young?" - and see the dismay on their faces when you tell them you tore them up...

Nice of you to look back this far in my posts!


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