Thursday, 29 July 2010

A book about gastric banding which may interest you

Tina has sent me a book to read, about one person's experience with the gastric band, called Fighting Weight by Khaliah Ali, which I have enjoyed and thought I would share with you.  With the help of a writer and two clinicians who performed the surgery in 2005 she tells the story of her years as an overweight child and young adult.   

The daughter of boxer Muhammad Ali, she was frequently in the spotlight, and while this compounded her shame, it drove her further to overeat for comfort.  Before, during and after surgery she allowed the cameras to record the process, and she describes her feelings during this time, and over the next 18 months when she halved her body weight.

She is no stranger to limelight so her story has a tabloid feel to it, not least of which is the title, Fighting Weight, which sounds like something dreamed up by a marketing committee with a brief to attract overweight readers while distancing it from mainline diet literature and cashing in on her parentage by linking it to her father’s profession.  Although I don’t identify with its excited tone of ‘sad-failure-to-triumphant-success’ which calls to mind the sort of motivational public speakers you’re forced to listen to at sales conferences, there’s no doubt that it’s a record of a remarkable personal achievement, whether she is famous or not.

On a personal level I was interested in the notes by one of the clinicians on how bandits need to approach eating in public successfully.  They lead by example, taking groups of bandits on outings to show them how to tackle meals in restaurants.  I needed reminding that the most dangerous stage when eating out is the bread on the table before the meal actually starts, when we are at our most hungrily vulnerable.  How many times have I sabotaged my own enjoyment by joining in with the lovely crusty bread dipped in something melting and wonderful, and then watched miserably as the other guests tuck into a starter or main course knowing that one false move with the fork and I’m done for, as I glance anxiously around the room wondering where the loos are just in case.

I feel I have been well looked after by the bariatric team at Taunton Hospital, but having read this book I realise that I have missed out on what even my beloved bandit bloggers can’t give me – the group therapy evenings where common problems are aired under the chairmanship and guide of an expert.  I much appreciate learning from other bloggers’ experiences, but I would also have liked someone in authority to tell me unequivocally what works and what doesn’t.

The book is aimed very much at the US/Canadian market, not surprisingly, and there are names of celebrities and brand names of high calorie foods which shall forever remain a mystery, but that’s just a detail. 

I would be very happy to post the book on to anyone else who might like to read it, with the request that she/he in turn does the same when they finish with it.  Why not let me know in the comments, and if you include your e-mail address I’ll be in touch with you for your address.  First come first served – and if bloggers are ahead of me and have already read it, I’ll donate to my local library.


Photo Finish:
From Lonicera’s non-digital archive

The Olympic Diver

John and I had many happy Spanish holidays with my parents in Chiva, near Valencia, and the pool made it fun.  Thanks to the direct flights between Valencia and Bristol I could still be swimming hours before we were due at the airport for our return journey and I frequently climbed aboard with a damp bathing suit over my shoulder.

Our hero claims to have perfected his dive after many hours at the goggle box watching swimming athletes perform from the high diving board, and he urges me to go public at last on this blog to show this inimitable sequence taken during the nineties, as a warning training to others.  Before diving in he would always explain carefully to me which moves he had selected.

So – as our lithe hero quietly centres his inner self for the
front inward twisting dive he is about to execute,

his finely tuned body poised on the very edge of the pool,

he stretches out first one arm then the other
in the Olympian ritual.

Amazing to reflect that the dive will include ...

a reverse one and a half somersault and two twists...

with flip and pike.

…and in he goes, his hands triumphantly hitting the water
with barely a gurgle. 

He’s done it again, and the crowd roars its appreciation.

(Or she roars as hard as she can anyway)


Monday, 12 July 2010

Do you hate being photographed? (4)

Preparing for Posterity
…with candid photographs
This Post:  Light, Posing, Angles, Expression, Perspective

Sources of Light
Use daylight, never flash, which is cruel;
Flattering light:  from a window during bright hours, or outside if very early morning or evening, or overcast. 

Avoid direct sunlight where possible, or if you must then position them with the sun behind them, i.e. it would be on you, the photographer, (no, listen): make sure the picture doesn’t include the orb of the sun (‘hide’ it behind your subject’s head, for example), and turn on your flash.  This will light up the natural areas of shadows on the face, while the sun behind her head produces a glowing halo effect, and the final result can be stunning.   
Taken on stage, but the principle is the same – the light behind the subject is a stage light.  Note that the picture is taken from below and from a distance using a telephoto lens – both flattering choices.
Useful if they’re holding something that will reflect – say a sheaf of papers, which while not in the final shot, will bounce light back into the areas of the face which go naturally into shadow – under the chin, the corners either side of the nose, the eye sockets.  If reflected on the cheek they can give a glowing look that’s very flattering.
In this case there is some flash on the child’s face, but the pool is providing an excellent reflector as well.

AVOID:  Bright light such as flash or direct sunlight.
Don’t take pictures of the subject head on, but ideally in profile or three quarters so that one can see both her eyes.  A wonderful pose is to position her seated or standing facing you but at 45 degrees, then ask her to twist her head round to look at you without moving the rest of her body.  It stretches the neck and minimises the double chin.
Mum, taken in the early 90’s also demonstrating the three-quarters pose.  The sun was just in the right place lighting up her face and leaving her body in shade, so I decided to take the grab shot from above her head, usually not recommended.

Use the wind:  If it’s windy and you’re outside, you’re in luck, particularly on an overcast day.  Windblown hair can look romantic in a candid portrait (or for example if the subject is laughingly trying to tame it), provided it doesn’t also make her look like she’s having a bad hair day.  Most of the time it will look best if the hair is blowing away from the face.  These sorts of pictures become much stronger and more stunning if they are turned into monochrome.  Bright red anoraks and noses recovering from heavy colds are thus neutralised…
The original picture showed more of Marina, but I liked the effect of just concentrating on her face.  This is what I mean about romantic hair, and the ‘heroic’ image of taking the picture from a lower viewpoint. 

Expression:  Compel the viewer to be drawn to your face, not the rest of you.  Try to hide unhappiness (or tetchiness) when being photographed and look confident even if you don’t feel it.  Years on, you – the subject - would realise how this spoiled the picture, and you would be unable to dissociate the occasion from your negative feelings.  Don’t give in to the age old instruction to “smile” and “say cheese”.   In group photographs it makes you seem like the misery-guts and it may not be possible, but if photographed alone, don’t grin.  If you have a nice smile it certainly draws the viewer in, but if you don’t think you do, a Mona Lisa imitation is interesting, as is a serious expression.  Practice your expressions in the mirror, try the following and then use them later, and you’ll do it unselfconsciously:  warm, happy, intelligent, interested, alert, come hither…

Shooting Angles

Shooting upwards from below her eye level – the subject’s eye level is above the level of the camera, looking away, and she will therefore appear to be looking (dreamily or heroically…) into the far distance.  This tightens the muscles of the face and neck, which helps with double chins.

Shooting on the same level – the subject is looking directly at the camera, communicating directly with the viewer and giving an impression of charm and trust;

Old school friend Cecilia at the Roman Baths, in Bath

AVOID shooting downwards, which would have a ‘dwarfing’ effect. 
AVOID full length pictures - for subjects who are self-conscious about their weight, full-length pictures are probably best avoided.  However if they are to be taken, it is generally because it involves groups of people – in which case the photographer needs telling that the results will be better and clearer if the subjects sit down, and they are photographed from the waist up.  In cutting out the legs and knees, the faces are larger in the frame – which is what people looking at the pictures later want to see anyway.
Take lots of shots, be wasteful, profligate and extravagant with that little flashcard in your camera, make it work hard – you no longer have the excuse that it’s expensive to waste so much film.  “But I’ve already done that pose, I don’t need to take any more”.  Yes you do, some people have slow blinks and talk throughout, and on your LCD viewing screen you won’t see the detail if there’s a slight twist to the mouth for example.  Most people are self-conscious when they’re being photographed; I’ve lost count of the times when the best picture I took was the 30th because in the previous 29 you can tell that they’re aware of the camera.  After that, the fact that you’re still clicking away is just a big yawn for them.  That’s when you get good ones.
Talk to the subject/s as you’re doing this, think of pleasant, friendly, amusing things to say that will cause a reaction – this is how you get the twinkle in the eye and the sudden laugh which can make them look radiant.
Ask her if she has a ‘good side’ – women particularly often know this because they’ve been studying themselves in the mirror for years.  It not only helps with rapport but makes a difference to the result.  If she doesn’t know, look carefully (and, let’s face it, calculatingly) at the imperfections on her face to see if a different angle will disguise it.  Example:  never photograph a person with a large nose from above and pointing the camera down at them.
Perspective – the easiest and most underused method of getting a flattering result, and if you’ve forgotten all my earlier blather, don’t forget this one:
Always use a long lens
and get as far away as possible.
Zoom in with the lens
and not by walking up to the subject.
If you have to stand close to get a close-up of them, the image gets distorted and the background is too clear and distracting.  If the camera has a zoom facility, always use it and stand as far back as you can.  Another advantage is that the background goes out of focus, which gives the image a timeless or romantic quality.

If the photographer prefers to take wide angle pictures, trust me, they’re doing it thinking only of their “art” and not of you, because professionals like them that way – just take a look at any Sunday magazine.  If your photographer is going out for the day with his/her SLR camera, you can be sure that you’ll be the subject, unwilling or not, at some point.  So do yourself a favour and force them to take their long lens along, and don’t take no for an answer.  With the small digital cameras that most people carry about with them, many have at least a small zooming facility.  Make sure they use it and stand as far away from you as possible while filling the frame with your head and shoulders only.
So, dear overweight, self-conscious person, you need to
  1. Think about photographic opportunities that might present themselves, and prepare for them;
  2. Get photographed from as far away as possible with zoom;
  3. NEVER let yourself be photographed full square facing the camera.  Your head perhaps, but not your body.  Angle your body a quarter turn at least away from the photographer, then swivel your head round to face the camera.  I don't know why, but it always works better - look back at the pictures here to verify.
  4. Encourage the photographer to get finger strain with the shutter button:  the more pictures there are, the more likely there is to be a decent one you can live with.
  5. If all else fails, do what John and I did a few years ago – photograph yourself in a special mirror…

Hope some of this is useful!

Photo Finish:
From Lonicera’s non-digital archive
Valencia, Spain
Street names...

'Paniagua' is in actual fact a surname, but it also means bread and water, so at first glance is a whimsical name for a street...

Chicken street...

Downtown Valencia

Up a side street...

Flower stall...

From the sea.


Friday, 2 July 2010

Do you hate being photographed? (3)

Preparing for Posterity
... with candid photographs

This post:  Clothes & Make-up

These notes are aimed at both the overweight person (generally – but not exclusively - a woman) who detests being photographed, and the frustrated non-professional photographer who is keen to capture an image of someone who won’t let them...  However, if you are the one who fears being captured on camera, you need to understand all these points and get the photographer to cooperate with you.  You have to be proactive in ensuring that you get the most flattering result possible.  It really isn’t difficult.
There are plenty of overweight people who don’t mind being photographed, and I’m not going to insult them by telling them what they should do when a camera hoves into view.  Nor do I claim to be very good at candids - but I can see how it should be done, and I have tried to achieve it when called upon to do so.
Being photographed when you’re feeling self-conscious doesn’t need to be a horrifying prospect.  Instead of regretting one day in the future that you weren’t brave enough to allow an image of you to be taken recording how you looked at the time, please take the trouble to read these notes.   You can’t be expected to remember all these little tricks – but at least if as you go along you recognise that each one makes sense, you will remember quite a few, and reap the rewards when you apply them.
These are NOT beauty tips – what do I know anyway! I don’t claim to apply them always to myself either; I’m merely passing on as a photographer what I have observed (a) through the lens and (b) later by looking at the results with a totally dispassionate eye.  It’s not rocket science; there are practical ways to ensure you look attractive in a photograph no matter what size you are. 

For this post to be useful I need to be practical and matter-of-fact and this is what I’ve come up with.  I was surprised that I didn’t have more pictures to cover each point, and have then remembered that it’s because I’ve handed over negatives/slides to the subjects at the time (I know, mistake).  There are clearly not enough images to illustrate what I’m telling you because it would have involved showing you what not to do as a comparison, and I would hate to upset any former subjects who might see this blog.  So I have had to stick myself in here and there.

Wear a decent bra and a flattering top.  If your chest is one of your good features, then draw attention to it by choosing the right top – gathered under the breasts for example, fabric crossed tightly over them, plunging V neck (with modesty panel if preferred, which is also flattering).
(I don’t enjoy including a 2007 pic of myself, but unfortunately it does illustrate that an open top with panel across works; as does ensuring I was only captured from chest upwards by kneeling on an armchair and leaning on the back.  However, I'll be suggesting in the next post that you avoid flash where possible, which can be cruel...)

Use low cut square neck with the corners as close as possible to your shoulders, or boat neck.  White collars are good for framing the face…

…frills are bad because they make a big bust look even bigger.  Good uplift essential, even if it’s not that comfortable...  Ensure that if bright colours are to be worn, they are confined to the upper half of the body only.
As far as the colour of the skin versus the colour of clothes worn on the upper half of the body, these are general guidelines for colour portraits –
(a)  Very pale skin = dark colours;
(b)   Some colour = pastel and medium bright (very bright colours would draw attention away from your face);
(bright clothes would have detracted from the radiance
of this subject's expression)

(c)  Suntanned = strong colours;
(d)  Dark skin = almost anything, although brilliant white can make the contrast too great;
(e)  You also need to know which colours suit your face colouring and which don’t. 
(1)  Round necklines which increase the apparent width of your neck (i.e. the classic T-shirt for example), as do choker type necklaces;
(2)  Tops with horizontal stripes;
(Argh... 1994.  After I saw this picture I never wore my Argentine rugby shirt again...)

(3)  Strappy little numbers that show your upper arms;
(4)  Light or bright coloured or bold patterned trousers and skirts;
(5) If you’re the subject, and a redhead, forget and put out of your mind for evermore the idea that any shade of purple, lilac, pink, orange and red are close enough to your hair colour to match (though beige/brown is OK).   If you like wearing them, fine, but in a photo you’re inviting viewers to not look at your face at all.  The general rule for people with ‘hot’ colouring to grab one’s attention is contrast - and this also applies to people with very pink skin, or sunburn -  use cool shades against the skin;
(6) Hats:  a word or two about being heavy and photographed wearing a hat:  “Don’t” and “toadstool” come to mind.  The only time it works is when it’s a close-up of your face only, framed by the hat and with some secondary source of light reflected back into it – such as a white top, or a red hat – both of which can make the face glow.
Marina can afford to break a few rules - she's slim

Use of makeup is good when you’re being photographed as part of a group, and you are therefore smaller in the frame; it makes the viewer seek out your face.  For close-ups it’s good for masking any imperfections.  Eye make-up is particularly effective as it concentrates attention on the so-called ‘windows of the soul’, the most important element by far of a candid portrait.
Next post:  Sources of Light, Posing, Shooting angles, Getting the right expression… and the single most important thing you can do for yourself to get a decent portrait.
Photo Finish -
from Lonicera's non-digital archive

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