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To the Photographer I Inadvertently Offended

When I said your portrait of me was better than my driver’s license photo, I meant it as a compliment. Really. It was the best I could do at the moment.

Getting my picture taken freaks me out a little. Not so much that I melt down in a public display with onlookers shouting, “Dammit, man, get help!” It’s more of a mild anxiety. When someone points a camera at me, I evade visual capture any way possible. I turn away. I make a face. I break the photographer’s knee caps. Whatever it takes to get free.

Most of the time the fear lies dormant. I forget that it bothers me. So when I saw the bulletin offering employees free sittings for head shots, I thought it was something I should probably get done. If nothing else, on the off chance that fate provides me with unintended fame, CNN might use the professionally taken portrait instead of one of the snapshots tagged in various friends’ Facebook photo albums. Realizing this, I made a note of the time and place.

As I approached the improvised photography studio, I felt the urge to stop and reverse direction–not by turning around, but by simply backing away, as if bumping ass-first into people or walls would be less conspicuous than casually turning around.

Before I could escape, you kindly directed me to the seat, and I think I asked, “What do I do now?” as I felt the large filtered lamp’s rays on my face. You told me to turn my head to the right, then just a bit back to the left. I was trying to remember how to contort my face into a smile when you said something that made me laugh, and you started shooting and told me it was a good smile. So I held the smile, wondering if I looked pained.

You asked if I wanted a serious shot, and I asked, “What would that involve?” Although my meaning was not clear, I wanted to know why a serious shot might be more useful than a smiley shot. You said it would be like a scholar’s thoughtful expression. I said, “You mean a blank stare?”

Unfazed, you told me to tilt my head to the right and snapped a shot, then immediately said you’d go with one of the shots of me smiling. You pulled your camera away from your face and turned it around so I could review the image on the LCD monitor. As soon as I realized what you were doing, I thought, “Oh shit oh fuck oh no,” imagining a face that was not the face I saw in the image. The face was my face, not the version I hold on file in my mind but the one I’m used to seeing in the mirror. Snapshots often fail to capture that face, but this photo did.

You took a nice photograph of me, one of few taken in the last few years that is accurate, in my opinion. I wanted to say so, but I worried that telling you what I actually thought would sound pretentious. A simple compliment might have sounded like I was praising myself instead of your work.

If you hadn’t asked, I may have let it go. Asking me what I thought was the right thing to do, but I’ve got tell you, the timing was not good for me. I was coming down from the stress of blowing some minor fear out of proportion, so what I thought was, “Oh, that wasn’t so bad after all,” but what I said was, “Well, it’s definitely better than my driver’s license photo.” And what I communicated was, “Well, I’m definitely a selfish, snarky smartass.”

It was a misfire. Sorry I nicked you.

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One Response

  1. You’ve made my day. If a head shot creates the tension to create this level of entertainment, may I schedule a photoshoot with Howard Roffman or Herb Ritts for you? What you could do with that! Loved it James.

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