Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Picture Perfectionist

The auditorium was dimly lit except for the occasional bursts from the bulbous, umbrella-like flashes that flanked each of the three predictably blue and black backdrop tarps on the stage. Creeping my way down the aisle among the sea of empty seats, I wondered how it was that I still hated picture day so much. I had, after all, been having my school picture made for the last thirty years or so, minus my four years at college, 'the blissful years' I call them, and I still had not mastered the art of being suitable or even marginally presentable in that one inch by one inch yearbook square.

I think the problem started when I was eight. It was at this impressionable age that I was finally conscious enough of my own reflection to notice that my previous school pictures were ridiculous. I realized in a single moment that all those times my parents opened the white picture envelope to see that year's picture, they weren't giggling at the delight of a picture well taken. They were laughing because my smile was too forced (to the point of painful grimace), or because my curls had not withstood the game of tag at recess, or because the caption of that year's photo, "deer in headlights," would be whispered among the extended family that holiday season.

I realized, when I was eight, that school pictures were just another punchline given at my expense. But that wasn't the horrible part. The horrible part was they were right. I was as un-photogenic as they come.

After having that epiphany, I remember practice posing. The night before picture day I would stand in front of the bathroom mirror and practice smiling. I would tell my brow to relax to rid it of the fear lines. I would tell my lips to soften to be more picturesque and less like a taut white line. I would measure the exact amount of gum line that should show, using my finger as a guide, so that the next day I could set my smile as it looked in the mirror when I finally got it right. I would raise my eyebrows and lower them to see what looked distinguished, or happy-go-lucky, or amused. I would pause at each expression, willing myself to remember it so that I could recall it as the mood struck the next day.

Every year I practiced which is probably why my pictures continued to get worse and worse. I think my parents eventually stopped trying to give them away as gifts as the photos became less endearing and more ridiculous. After all, they weren't hoping to offend anyone, including extended family. Plus they didn't want the pictures to be misconstrued as a shortcoming in their parenting skills. They knew they had to purchase a package so as not to devastate me, but they did buy the smallest package so as not to be too wasteful.

These were my thoughts that day in the auditorium. I stepped to the front of the line, a perk of being a teacher, just in time to hear the photographer saying, "No. No! Just stop. Turn your head a little more.. No! (sigh) Look. You have to relax. Let's start over. Stand up."

"Shit," I thought. "Of course I got in this line. It has to be karma of some sort. But what did I do to deserve this repeated torment?"

"Next!" the photographer called.

I stepped forward and took a deep breath, hoping that I wouldn't be as humiliated as the poor soul who went before me.

"Have a seat," the photographer said. "Perfect."

"What?" I thought. "Did he say 'perfect?'" I smiled, allowing myself a second of relief. "I have done this before, you know," I quipped. Maybe this would be the year I would break the cycle. Surely I was due some sort of reprieve after all of these years of aggravation.

"Ok. Now turn your head a bit.. No. Not like that. Just a little.. Your shirt.." he said.

"What?" I asked.

"Your shirt. Pull it down some." I started smoothing out my shirt. "No," he said, "Pull it. It's too.. Just.. It's the collar. It's too close to your neck." I pulled, trying frantically to understand his wild gesticulations.

He eventually gave up and sighed. "Fine. Whatever. Just smile."

My face reverted back to all of those frozen practice moments. I felt the panic creeping out of my pores and into the camera lens. I grinned my most forced smile, cursing the likes of all of those perfect kids - the photogenic ones whose pictures, K-12, still adorn the hallways of their parents' homes.

Click.

Another picture day come and gone.

8 comments:

Tammy Howard said...

Oh Lord, there was a lot of familiarity here...

I am ridiculously unphotogenic. And then when people say, "that's a great picture of you" I figure it means they think I'm really ugly.

My family is thinking about all doing that teeth clenched, lips pulled back, eyes widened and looking straight ahead look for Christmas cards this year. I think it's hilarious. I wonder if our friends and relatives would agree?

Sandy said...

You're good for another year.

Who didn't hate picture day? I take a terrible photo. In fact when I was about 8 I started TAKING the pictures. Figured out that early that if I was BEHIND the lens I couldn't be in front of it. Caused some major fights with my father when I refused to let my photo be taken.

Hillbilly Duhn said...

Ugh! I think I just went back to every stupid picture I took in school.

I love the way you wrote it.

Helen McGinn said...

*L* That was a wonderful post. Sad in a way, but wonderful. ;O) Any chance of you posting some for us to...um...admire? I wouldn't do that to you, only kidding! x

Teresha@Marlie and Me said...

This post brought back so many memories of my own battles in front of the camera. Maybe that's why I studied photography in college?! I have missed reading your writing! With the new baby, I have gotten so behind on visiting my bloggy friends...I know you understand.
Please come see us at our new blog (subscribe/follow/add us to your RSS feed):

Marlie and Me

Jen said...

I too hate picture day! Last year, since I didn't have a homeroom class I thought I was off the hook! Not so much!! They hunted me down and MADE me take a stupid picture! They said is was for the year book! Ick!! I hope I can sneak by this year!

I remember several of your school pictures as a kid and I think they were cute!! Trust me they couldn't be worse than mine!! I always wondered why my parents bought the smallest package. I just thought it was because they were cheap!! Ha!!

Oh and check out my blog now! I think I fixed it so you can see the blue font better! You weren't seeing the cream background! Let me know if you can see it better now!!

Miss you too!!

Jen

Teresha@Marlie and Me said...

Hey fellow Texan! I left a gift for you on my blog...stop by to pick it up!

happyfunpants said...

I've been very far behind in my blogger reader...and my face actually frowned when I read this.

But first, you know what is perfect? Your writing in this post. Seriously...it's fantastic.

Secondly, that photographer is a DOUCHE. Who does that? Who makes kids and teachers feel so icky and unphotogenic? DOUCHES that's who.

Thirdly, I think you're beautiful - in and out of pictures. I've NEVER looked at a picture of you and wanted to cringe and I'm sorry if you believe that others have or still do that. You are such a phenomenal human being that I can't WAIT until I get the next picture taken with you. :)

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Picture Perfectionist

The auditorium was dimly lit except for the occasional bursts from the bulbous, umbrella-like flashes that flanked each of the three predictably blue and black backdrop tarps on the stage. Creeping my way down the aisle among the sea of empty seats, I wondered how it was that I still hated picture day so much. I had, after all, been having my school picture made for the last thirty years or so, minus my four years at college, 'the blissful years' I call them, and I still had not mastered the art of being suitable or even marginally presentable in that one inch by one inch yearbook square.

I think the problem started when I was eight. It was at this impressionable age that I was finally conscious enough of my own reflection to notice that my previous school pictures were ridiculous. I realized in a single moment that all those times my parents opened the white picture envelope to see that year's picture, they weren't giggling at the delight of a picture well taken. They were laughing because my smile was too forced (to the point of painful grimace), or because my curls had not withstood the game of tag at recess, or because the caption of that year's photo, "deer in headlights," would be whispered among the extended family that holiday season.

I realized, when I was eight, that school pictures were just another punchline given at my expense. But that wasn't the horrible part. The horrible part was they were right. I was as un-photogenic as they come.

After having that epiphany, I remember practice posing. The night before picture day I would stand in front of the bathroom mirror and practice smiling. I would tell my brow to relax to rid it of the fear lines. I would tell my lips to soften to be more picturesque and less like a taut white line. I would measure the exact amount of gum line that should show, using my finger as a guide, so that the next day I could set my smile as it looked in the mirror when I finally got it right. I would raise my eyebrows and lower them to see what looked distinguished, or happy-go-lucky, or amused. I would pause at each expression, willing myself to remember it so that I could recall it as the mood struck the next day.

Every year I practiced which is probably why my pictures continued to get worse and worse. I think my parents eventually stopped trying to give them away as gifts as the photos became less endearing and more ridiculous. After all, they weren't hoping to offend anyone, including extended family. Plus they didn't want the pictures to be misconstrued as a shortcoming in their parenting skills. They knew they had to purchase a package so as not to devastate me, but they did buy the smallest package so as not to be too wasteful.

These were my thoughts that day in the auditorium. I stepped to the front of the line, a perk of being a teacher, just in time to hear the photographer saying, "No. No! Just stop. Turn your head a little more.. No! (sigh) Look. You have to relax. Let's start over. Stand up."

"Shit," I thought. "Of course I got in this line. It has to be karma of some sort. But what did I do to deserve this repeated torment?"

"Next!" the photographer called.

I stepped forward and took a deep breath, hoping that I wouldn't be as humiliated as the poor soul who went before me.

"Have a seat," the photographer said. "Perfect."

"What?" I thought. "Did he say 'perfect?'" I smiled, allowing myself a second of relief. "I have done this before, you know," I quipped. Maybe this would be the year I would break the cycle. Surely I was due some sort of reprieve after all of these years of aggravation.

"Ok. Now turn your head a bit.. No. Not like that. Just a little.. Your shirt.." he said.

"What?" I asked.

"Your shirt. Pull it down some." I started smoothing out my shirt. "No," he said, "Pull it. It's too.. Just.. It's the collar. It's too close to your neck." I pulled, trying frantically to understand his wild gesticulations.

He eventually gave up and sighed. "Fine. Whatever. Just smile."

My face reverted back to all of those frozen practice moments. I felt the panic creeping out of my pores and into the camera lens. I grinned my most forced smile, cursing the likes of all of those perfect kids - the photogenic ones whose pictures, K-12, still adorn the hallways of their parents' homes.

Click.

Another picture day come and gone.

8 comments:

Tammy Howard said...

Oh Lord, there was a lot of familiarity here...

I am ridiculously unphotogenic. And then when people say, "that's a great picture of you" I figure it means they think I'm really ugly.

My family is thinking about all doing that teeth clenched, lips pulled back, eyes widened and looking straight ahead look for Christmas cards this year. I think it's hilarious. I wonder if our friends and relatives would agree?

Sandy said...

You're good for another year.

Who didn't hate picture day? I take a terrible photo. In fact when I was about 8 I started TAKING the pictures. Figured out that early that if I was BEHIND the lens I couldn't be in front of it. Caused some major fights with my father when I refused to let my photo be taken.

Hillbilly Duhn said...

Ugh! I think I just went back to every stupid picture I took in school.

I love the way you wrote it.

Helen McGinn said...

*L* That was a wonderful post. Sad in a way, but wonderful. ;O) Any chance of you posting some for us to...um...admire? I wouldn't do that to you, only kidding! x

Teresha@Marlie and Me said...

This post brought back so many memories of my own battles in front of the camera. Maybe that's why I studied photography in college?! I have missed reading your writing! With the new baby, I have gotten so behind on visiting my bloggy friends...I know you understand.
Please come see us at our new blog (subscribe/follow/add us to your RSS feed):

Marlie and Me

Jen said...

I too hate picture day! Last year, since I didn't have a homeroom class I thought I was off the hook! Not so much!! They hunted me down and MADE me take a stupid picture! They said is was for the year book! Ick!! I hope I can sneak by this year!

I remember several of your school pictures as a kid and I think they were cute!! Trust me they couldn't be worse than mine!! I always wondered why my parents bought the smallest package. I just thought it was because they were cheap!! Ha!!

Oh and check out my blog now! I think I fixed it so you can see the blue font better! You weren't seeing the cream background! Let me know if you can see it better now!!

Miss you too!!

Jen

Teresha@Marlie and Me said...

Hey fellow Texan! I left a gift for you on my blog...stop by to pick it up!

happyfunpants said...

I've been very far behind in my blogger reader...and my face actually frowned when I read this.

But first, you know what is perfect? Your writing in this post. Seriously...it's fantastic.

Secondly, that photographer is a DOUCHE. Who does that? Who makes kids and teachers feel so icky and unphotogenic? DOUCHES that's who.

Thirdly, I think you're beautiful - in and out of pictures. I've NEVER looked at a picture of you and wanted to cringe and I'm sorry if you believe that others have or still do that. You are such a phenomenal human being that I can't WAIT until I get the next picture taken with you. :)