Do you enjoy having your photo taken? You know, I don’t much care for it myself.
For example, here’s what happened the day a photographer came to my house to take my first ever ‘author photo’.
It all came about because The Running Man had just been shortlisted for an award and a photographer was sent to take a picture to accompany an article about it for the weekend paper.
I thought a lot about what I should wear. I still felt like a teacher, but I wanted to look more like a writer. But what do writers look like? Eventually I just decided to wear jeans and then I tried on every shirt I owned to go with them, before settling on one that I thought had a certain ‘writerly’ quality to it.
When the photographer arrived, we introduced ourselves – I was Michael, he was Gordan but, ‘Hey, call me Gordy’.
Gordy took one look at me and said,’ “Have you got another shirt you can wear, mate. You’re up for a big award thing aren’t you? I think we should make you look more like a writer.”
‘I thought I was a writer,’ I mumbled to myself as I changed into a plain black t-shirt.
“How about this?” I asked, showing him my new attire.
“Yeah … that’s a bit more like it,’ Gordy said still not sounding entirely convinced. “But it would be good if you looked more ‘arty’ if you know what I mean?”
I wasn’t sure I did. And anyway, maybe my idea of arty and Gordy’s was entirely different?
“I know,” he said, “have you got a leather jacket you could throw over the top of that t-shirt?”
“Sorry,” I said feeling like I’d just flunked Introduction to Arty 101. Then I noticed that Gordy himself was in fact wearing a leather jacket and looking slightly arty in a Hell’s Angels sort of a way.
“Can I borrow yours?”
I slipped on Gordy’s jacket (which was way too big for me but good enough) and we set out on our quest to find an ‘arty’ location for the sitting. As we passed by a big mirror in the dining room I caught a glimpse of myself bedecked in jeans, black t-shirt and leather jacket. I half expected to hear the theme from Happy Days start to play. I fantasized briefly about clicking my fingers and being surrounding by a bevy of girls in bobby-socks. Heeeeeeeeey!
“Oh … nothing …”
Our first photo session took place in the lounge room.
The advent of Digital cameras has dramatically improved the life of the photographer – but it has its downsides as far as I’m concerned. In the past they’d take their precious roll or two of photos, then they’d go away and develop them in order to discover how they turned out.
Not any more. Gordy could fire off as many shots as he wanted with reckless abandon and he could check them, there and then, on the spot, right in front of me. I watched him do this a number of times. On each occasion a wave of disappointment washed across his face.
“Something wrong?” I finally asked.
“No,” Gordy replied without taking his disappointed eyes off the images that clicked across the viewfinder. “It’s just … ummm … the light.’
I took Gordy’s word for it that day, but having been through this same thing a number of times since, I now know that the expression, “It’s the light,” is just photographer-speak for, “How am I expected to take a decent photo when you look like that!” or something similar involving the expressions “silk purse” and “sow’s ear”.
Anyway, Gordy decided that inside the house wasn’t working and what we really needed was another location.
“Better light outside,” I suggested cheerfully.
“What? Light? … Oh yeah … better light … yeah sure.”
I regarded Gordy suspiciously.
Outside we tried everywhere (in front of the lattice work, down in our jungle of a backyard, in the carport, on the steps) because now Gordy reckoned we needed something ‘earthy’ as well as ‘arty’.
And then, just when all seemed lost, we found it. The perfect location – beside our two big wheelie bins next to the old broken down section of asbestos fence.
“Just don’t breathe in too much,” Gordy joked.
I forced a smile, but I obediently sat down on the cement path with the corrugated pattern of the arty toxic fence at my back and the decidedly earthy garbage bins beside me. Gordy squatted down in front of me. He was uncomfortably close.
“All right, now just relax and be natural,” Gordy said before adding, “And look like a writer.”
I relaxed and smiled.
“Don’t smile,” he said as he peered over the top of his camera.
I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do. I thought, “What would a writer do in this situation?” I desperately thought of all the photos of writers I’d seen. Then I had it. Of course! ‘The look’! I’ll give him ‘The literary genius look’!
And so I did. I fixed Gordy with an author’s gaze and a look that said unequivocally, “I am a writer and none of you out there could possibly comprehend the incredibly deep and meaningful things I have lurking in my brain.”
Surprisingly it seemed to work. Gordy started clicking away furiously as he sat on his backside on the path in front of me. Then he started bottoming his way even closer.
Eventually he was so close that our legs were overlapping. One of his legs was perched with dangerous intimacy between mine. And it was precisely at this point, that my wife came out the side-door to put some rubbish in the bins.
She stopped in her tracks. A garbage bag hung from her hand. She looked at me. She looked at Gordy. She noted our legs entwined together. She spoke.
“You promised you’d never cheat on me,” she said.
She considered this mightily hilarious.
While Gordy and I smiled a little sheepishly, my wife leant over both of us and emptied the bag into the garbage, managing at the same time to drop an onion ring on me. A prophet is never known in his own country.
When my wife had left, Gordy didn’t even bother to check the last batch of photos. He just looked at me and said, “Well I’d say that’d just about do it. I reckon we’ve got the shot we want in there somewhere!”
And then he was off.
When the weekend came I searched eagerly through the Arts section of Saturday’s paper. And there it was – my article. It wasn’t bad. It said some nice things about me and the book and the award.
Oh, and the photo? The photo that Gordy had put all his heart and soul and creativity into? The photo that we both risked asbestos poisoning and public humiliation to capture? That photo?
Well that photo was literally the size of a postage stamp. Not only that, but it had been cropped so severely that you couldn’t see any of the arty fence or any of the earthy garbage bins, and little or nothing of my extremely writerly black t-shirt or borrowed leather jacket.
In fact all you could basically see, was my face … my face which had ‘the look’ plastered all over it. The look that said unequivocally :
“I’m a writer and none of you out there could possibly comprehend how incredibly constipated I am right now.”
Do you enjoy having your photograph taken?
I don’t much care for it myself.