Worth a thousand words?
Do you enjoy having your photo taken? I don't much care for it myself.
For example, here's what happened the day a newspaper photographer came to my house to take my first ever 'author photo'.
It all came about because The Running Man had just won 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 denim 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' - and then he looked me over and said, "Have you got another shirt you can wear, mate. You've won a big award thing haven'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 my shirt for 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 idea of arty was 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 very un-arty for not owning a leather jacket, before noticing that Gordy himself was in fact wearing one and looking slightly arty in a bikey sort of a way. "Can I borrow yours?"
I slipped on Gordy's jacket (which was way too big for me but good enough). As we set out on our quest to find an 'arty' location for the sitting, we passed by a big mirror in the dining room and I caught a glimpse of myself bedecked in jeans, black t-shirt and leather jacket. I half expected at any moment to hear the theme from Happy Days start to play. I fantasised briefly about clicking my fingers and being surrounding by a bevy of girls in bobby-socks. Heeeeeeeeey!
"What'd ya say?"
"Oh ... nothing ..."
Our first photo session took place in the lounge room.
The advent of Digital cameras has dramatically changed the life of the photographer. 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 stop, right in front of me. I watched him do this a few times. On each occasion a wave of disappointment drifted 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 know now 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!"
Anyway, Gordy decided that inside the house wasn't working and what we really needed was another location.
"Better light outside," I suggested helpfully.
"What? ... light? ... oh yeah ... better light ... yeah sure."
I regarded Gordy suspiciously.
Outside we tried everywhere - in front of the lattice work, in our jungle of a backyard, in the carport, on the steps - because Gordy reckoned we needed something 'earthy' as well as 'arty'.
And then, just when all seemed lost, we found it. The perfect location - beside the garbage bins with an old broken down section of asbestos fence as a background. "Just don't breathe in too much," Gordy joked.
I forced a smile. Then I sat on the cement path with the corrugated pattern of the arty toxic fence at my back and the decidedly earthy 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, "Look like a writer."
I relaxed and smiled.
Gordy peered over the top of the camera. "Don't smile," he said.
I didn't know what to do. What would a writer do in this situation? I desperately thought of all the photos of writers I had ever seen. Then I had it. Of course! 'The look'! I'll give him 'the look'!
And so I did. I fixed Gordy with 'the look' - 'the look' that said unequivocally , "I am a writer and none of you out there could possibly know how incredibly deep and meaningful I really am."
Surprisingly it seemed to work. Gordy started clicking away furiously. He sat down on his backside on the path in front of me and then bottomed his way even closer. He was so close that our legs were overlapping. One of his legs was perched dangerously between mine.
And it was precisely at this point, that my wife came around the corner to put some rubbish in the bin.
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 looked backed at me. She spoke.
"How could you?" she said, "you promised you'd never cheat on me!"
She considered this mightily hilarious.
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. It was true - a prophet is never known in his own country.
After 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. As it turned out, I was really happy with it. It said a lot of 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?
It 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 or any part at all of my extremely writerly black t-shirt or leather jacket.
In fact all you could 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 know how incredibly constipated I am right now."
Do you enjoy having your photograph taken?
I don't much care for it myself.