Making a permanent impression since 1994
November 8, 2004
-- Senior Journal --
Shoot me! Perils of the senior photo
By Katie Jordan
I hate having my picture taken.
I cringe when I hear a photographer say, “Okay, now SMILE!” Of course, that cringing expression always makes for a lovely shot.
I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. But even if I’m not alone in how I feel about having my photo taken, the fact is that when you’re sitting there on some uncomfortable stool with the evil, unblinking black eye of a camera focused on you, you are alone. Well, except for the photographer.
But let’s face it, that’s not always a comfort.
“Turn your head a little. No, the other way! Farther. No, too far! Let me do it.”
Oh, yeah – nothing puts me in the right frame of mind to smile attractively like being frozen in an unnatural position after having some stranger’s hands all over my face.
It’s not the photographers’ fault, though, even if I would like to blame it all on them. And believe me, I would.
No, the fact is as plain as the cringe on my face: I’m just not good at being photographed.
It hasn’t always been this way.
Once, my mother entered a photo she took of me in a “Pretty Baby Contest.”
My picture won a very prestigious award: a free pizza. It was a proud moment for my family.
But on the other hand, I am one of very, very few people in the world who actually also have bad baby pictures.
Most babies are naturally photogenic.
I was a rare exception.
As my mother explained to me recently, she used to take pictures of my older sister when she was a baby, and had expected to do the same with her second child. But, as she explained it to me, then I came along – and she gave up.
All through school, my pictures have been pretty lousy.
In elementary school, I think it was caused partly by my big purple-rimmed glasses and lost teeth, and partly by the fact that the photographers tried to be cute by telling us, “Say jellybeans!”
The idea was to snap the photo when our mouths were shaping the long E sound, which produces an expression almost like a smile. But I doubt if their timing was that good, and the results could be bizarre – go make a J, L, or B sound in front of a mirror and maybe you’ll see what I mean.
Plus, in elementary school I had no common sense and wasn't conscious of my appearance. In a lot of ways, that was a good thing. In other ways, not so good … for example, the time somebody convinced me to stick my tongue out slightly in one of my school photos, saying, “Nobody will notice.”
Funnily enough, nobody did notice.
Which should give you an idea about the kind of quality people expected from my school photos even then.
Every time I’ve received my school pictures in their big white envelope with the clear panel they put there so I have to take the photos out and flip them so only the backs show, I get the same response from every person who gets to see them.
Both my mother and father say, not terribly convincingly, “Oh – it’s not that bad this year!” or something to that effect. Well, actually, sometimes my dad just chuckles.
And so it’s been for me all through elementary school and junior high, and now high school. Thankfully there are fewer witnesses now, since a lot of students don’t want to buy the ridiculously expensive yearbooks at all until their senior year.
But my senior year is this year. And what that means is that I just had my senior picture taken.
I don’t usually worry about things like this, but I will acknowledge that this is the most important school photo I have ever had taken of me.
And of course that means it wasn’t taken at the school.
No, I went to the studio of the company who takes the senior photos – Art Rich. (I’ll resist making any snide comments linking the name of the company with what they must expect their customers to be, based on the prices of their packages.)
Actually, I could have had the yearbook photo taken at the school for free. But no. Most of the other lousy photos of me have been stuffed in boxes or hidden or tucked away somewhere to gather dust. This photo of me, lousy or not, will be given to relatives and probably even framed.
(Framed – I’m thinking that’s what the poor photographer is going to claim she was when she realizes she will be forever associated with my photo.)
And so, since the photo is to be given out to those lucky recipients, we had to purchase copies, which means we had to drive to the Art Rich studio for the session.
Of course, we went for the cheapest package. I doubt a package of pictures of me, no matter what magic the photographer employs, will ever be worth a cent over the lowest price available.
Oh, but I would have paid any price to get out of that studio once I was trapped there.
The place looked something like a bizarre movie set, with strange props like staircases that lead to nowhere.
And cameras. It gave me the willies.
I have nothing against Art Rich, and especially not the photographer who took my pictures, who is probably the nicest person ever to hold a camera.
But I still wanted to run for the hills, because – as I think I might have mentioned before – I hate having my picture taken.
Running was out of the question, though. My glasses were forsaken to a dressing room nearby, since lenses reflect the flash. I’m very nearsighted, so it’s a wonder I even made it to the little stool in front of the backdrop without any accidents.
Then came the posing. I followed directions like a slightly clumsy little robot, tilting my head the way she told me to, then trying to hold still after she came to adjust me herself.
That was tough enough. But then I had to smile.
I’m a lousy smiler. Oh, I smile fine when I’m actually happy (at least I think I do – but how often do you happen to be in front of a mirror when you feel happy?) But remember, I hate having my picture taken.
So I have to try to smile. And it’s obvious that I am trying. A forced smile always makes you look bad, in a deranged psycho-killer sort of way.
But I smiled my way through the 15-minute-long, who-knows-how-many photo session, although my smile may have looked more like a wince by the end because my cheek muscles were aching from the exertion.
Two weeks later, a card from Art Rich arrived in the mail. It was to inform us that the “previews” of my photos were ready, and that we “must call” to make an appointment. After we ignored the card for a day, they called us.
Art Rich allots a week for customers to make the all-important decision of which photos to buy. My mother and I rifled through the pics a couple of times and didn’t have any difficulty picking the two that we thought came out the best.
Of course, when my dad looked at the photos, he just chuckled.
He pointed out that I had the same expression in all of them.
Evidently he was surprised.
I refrained from pointing out that that expression is called a “smile.” Maybe I should have tried something more adventurous, like sticking my tongue out?
What the heck – nobody would notice.
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