Recently I’ve gotten my picture taken much more than usual. No great mystery why: the Nebula nomination. I think most of us are rendered uncomfortable and self-conscious by having photos taken, especially ones we know “matter” — no matter how many candids are taken of us as children by snap-happy parents, as adults most of us are anxious about the process.
My recent adventures in digital gaze actually began a year before the Nebula nomination, when I roped my dad into trying to take an author headshot for me. The light wasn’t great and I didn’t choose my clothes all that well, but we got something I can use and currently do. The big revelation, however, was that I am horrible at posing, and even at judging my own shots. Ryan says just about every shot of me looking “serious” makes me look bored — and he has a lot more experience with my expressions than I do.
I suppose posing is like anything else where your body has to produce an effect your mind doesn’t fully understand: you have to learn to trick yourself, and without a toolbag of tricks, you’re flailing around with little hope.
A few weeks ago I went to my first ever professional photoshoot: Portland Monthly Magazine wanted a photograph to go along with a column on local Nebula nominees M.K. Hobson, Mary Robinette Kowal, and me. This was incredibly fun: there were floating antique typewriters (converted from floatless models in Mary Robinette’s collection) and flying pieces of paper and cups of free coffee from one of my favorite Portland coffeehouses, Case Study. But at several points I was asked to look “angry”, intense, like I hated the camera. And I say at several points because the other two subjects only had to be asked once.
This is actually quite funny to me, because I think I play angry reasonably well — in motion and speech. I scared a fellow student once when we did the “kill Claudio” speech from Much Ado About Nothing for class (I was Beatrice, natch.) A fellow roleplayer in my first LARP went out-of-character to make sure his buffoonish character’s chauvinistic comments weren’t actually bothering me — he said I seemed actually livid. But in stillness, apparently, my hating the camera has little effect.
It was Mary Hobson who saved the day by saying “think about Marla from Fight Club!” How could she have known I had just rewatched Fight Club — and just lost my longstanding distaste for Helena Bonham Carter thanks to The King’s Speech? I tried Marla. She hates the camera with world-weary ennui, and has complete contempt for it. The reminders to look angry ceased and the fun continued.
The other day I had a solo portrait shot by a professional photographer for my high school alma mater‘s alumni magazine (I’m trying to keep this a secret from my mom, but if she’s reading my blog this regularly she deserves to find out!) After a few different sorts of smiles and some “serious” expressions (will I look bored in those?), the photographer told me to do angry. I summoned my Marla impression at once, and he shook his head. “Whoa! Too much.”