Usha
As a child I do not remember being photographed much - of course we had the occasional group photos where we sat in the order of height or stood like a line of suspects for an invisible witness to identify. The photographer never asked us to smile - he basically fiddled with his camera until he could get the entire group in focus and then clicked. My first photo as an adult was in college - I needed a passport size photo for some reason I cannot remember. It could have been for a hall ticket or something. In a scary dark room, the photographer asked me to sit on a bench, covered his head and the camera with a dark cloth. He stuck out the left index finger and asked me to look steadily at it while he clicked. And he forgot to say 'smile'. So when the prints came out they had me looking very worried as if I might lose that precious finger entrusted to my care, looking steadily and sharply through the darkness.People who saw the picture never ceased to wonder what had engaged my attention so much - whether I was seeing a UFO land. It was unfortunate because for several years later whenever I needed a passport size picture I was told to make copies of the aforementioned much to my chagrin - but then who would give me another twenty rupees and make another set? I was not applying to be a model or anything - it was just for official records.

Fortunately this photo was not considered adequate when my in-laws - to - be requested a photo of mine for circulation among their relatives when my marriage was arranged. So I received a fresh photo allowance of Rs.30. This time I had to get it right in order to make the right impressions with the in-laws. A lot was at stake. After all, first impressions matter, don't they? So I went to a shop run by a friend. It turned out ok although my idea of a smile seemed to be to look as if I was trying to hide an oversized toffee on one side of my mouth. The right side of my mouth was drawn a couple of inches further but overall it was considered my 'natural' look and worthy to be passed around among total strangers without biasing them towards me. If there were jokes about that look I never heard about them - so far so good.

Then came the marriage album - the mother of all horrors. A group of well meaning friends had got together and bought me a make-up set to be used for the occasion and what was missing in it was supplied by a friend who was a Bharatanatyam artist. So in the June heat of Chennai I painted on foundation and 'rose' powder and eye liner and came out looking like a kathakali artist during the nischayatartam ceremony - the eve before the wedding. It was as well that the sweat wiped it off my face after a few minutes. My natural horror look was adequate for the occasion in stead of adding colour to it! Whether cosmic forces worked in my favour or it was a result of seeing me in full make-up - the main photographer fell sick that night. So there are very few photos of the wedding itself, mainly taken by a friend who ran out of film midway through the ceremony!

And then the real painful saga began - job applications, driving licence, passport, bank accounts - everybody needed a photo or three of them. I tried leaving my hair open, putting it up in a bun, removing my glasses, looking right, looking left, looking pensive, looking amused - but nothing worked. I always looked like it was the last moment before something exploded on my face - 'good bye dear life' look.

I needed to break the jinx and so I requested anita, friend and an excellent photographer to take a few pictures. She has a magic touch of transforming the most mundane scene into an amazing picture and I felt I would be more relaxed with her. Being the sweet gentle spirit she is,she readily agreed. So we were all set and happily smiling and then she picks up the camera and aims and there I freeze at the very moment she presses the shutter. 'One more time', I beg. Again, the same sequence of events. Again, again, again until she finally gives up. Either I contort my face all the time which no one notices because of my dazzling personality or this happens only when within a distance of a few feet of a camera lens. I look around and see young kids hardly out of their cradle smiling beautifully and confidently into a camera and it makes me more depressed. Why do my pictures look like cartoons of my face - exaggerating all the flaws?

The only comfort in all this is the thought that bored officials in several dark government offices just need to look at my pictures to burst into a smile and begin to count their own blessings. Probably this is the reason why I have NEVER had any problem with government offices - they see my picture, smile and then cover it immediately with the stamp 'approved'.
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34 Responses
  1. Jo Says:

    Nice post :)


  2. Altoid Says:

    hehehe. Imagine in the future, everytime your grandkids need a good laugh, they'll pull out albums with pictures of their paati and regale themselves with tales of your frozen look.

    Maybe "freeze" phobia is the term for it.


  3. Awww.. Usha, beauty or otherwise lies in the eyes of the beholder. But yeah, it WOULD be nice to look nice in photos, a photogenic face is something I don't possess either.
    But i personally know of some bride hunting stories , where teh beauty online/in photos was found to be a non-beauty offline/face-to-face, and the whole process cut short. So that way, I feel it is better to be seen for what you are and then to win them over with what assets you do have (sense of humour is sooooo important, don't you think?):-D


  4. maami Says:

    I don't know what's it about those passport sized official photos that makes the good looking among us look they have a gun to their backs and the ugly ones look like the dead.
    Be thankful you haven't seen mine. Sheer horros.


  5. ap Says:

    Gud one ....May be ask someone to photograph u secretly....and forget abt it ....


  6. Serendipity Says:

    You didn't look harassed or "contorted' in the pic with the swing in it ! :)Or the one you took with Alto! You looked confident and smiley to me! :P

    I think you should sue this guy-under-black-cloth-forgot-to-say-smile person!


  7. Dhanya Says:

    Think everyone has the same experience when it comes to photographs esp passport size photographs.. I also don't like to look at my picture n so don't pose. As a result most of my available snaps r the caught unaware series. :( http://itsmyownspace.blogspot.com/2007/05/not-in-frame.html


  8. Very nice post. ITs so witty, I infact giggled more than twice.
    If you have that photo, pls scan it and upload it usha :-)
    Now they take photos with lof of effects, and make everybody look like models. Probably during your son's engagement you should try some!
    Well written post..


  9. Parul Says:

    I personally look like a caricature of myself in all my pictures....M calls it my unique constipated look...ah well...

    Very phunny you are :)


  10. Swati Says:

    Quite a witty and amusing post Usha..nice sense of humour. But I guess your pics come out nice..I have seen a few on your blog.


  11. CW Says:

    Tell me abt it! Anyone looking at my passport sized pics has an interesting observation to make- that my eyes look lifeless/I look indifferent/I could use a pretence of a smile, blah blah. They don't understand that there's such a thing as un-photogenic.
    Funny, funny post Usha! I had to use hand on mouth technique to stop myself from bursting into laugher ;-)


  12. dipali Says:

    Loved this. It resonates:)


  13. Chitra Says:

    He he he he ! Join the gang! I too wrote a rant on this sometime back (http://chitraaz.blogspot.com/2006/02/say-cheese.html).


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  15. chitra Says:

    Lovely post Usha! Tagged you on another post ;)


  16. rajk Says:

    This had me smiling throughout....It's so great that you can laugh at yourself...Very few people have the self-confidence to do that!


  17. DotMom Says:

    great narration...especially the marriage one. I am cursed with pics too. Never seem to get a nice one!


  18. Preethi Says:

    lovely post.. my husband has this forced grin in many pictures.. (that sometimes seems like he is constipated) its fun to tease him about it!!


  19. Anju Says:

    Lovely Post , enjoyed reading it.


  20. Hip Grandma Says:

    We all keep finding fault with our looks in every photograph taken and you are no exception.whatever you say applies to most people including myself.The truth is that in a group photograph each one is so busy looking at their own image that other people's looks don't matter.In passport sized photographs the camera covered with a black cloth os enough to upset the bravest among us and being dark skinned the society tunes us into believing that we cannot/are not supposed to look good so even when someone genuinely praises us we feel guilty about accepting credit where it is due.cheer up! The Non photogenic group is the majority and doesn't the majority win??


  21. noon Says:

    One of your best Usha...just sweet and hilarious!


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  23. WhatsInAName Says:

    awwww
    A big hug to a photogenic gal from another photogenic gal :)
    lol at mother of all albums. I can relate so much to it ... I was at my pathetic worst during my marriage and the photographer could not hide the fact in the album :)
    Hilarious post and i felt it was my photo-biography :)


  24. Came here from bloghopping. I bursted out laughing reading this post. Going to read your other posts as well.


  25. Inder Says:

    people look at the photograph in my passport... they look back at me. they oscillate between the photograph and me. they give me this suspicious look... every one of them...


  26. Rada Says:

    Dear Usha,

    I came upon your blog quite by accident, but chose to stay on and read some of the posts.

    "Photographic memories" is quite hilarious. I was reminded about Erma Bombeck's famous remark : "When you start looking like your Passport Photo, maybe it is time to go home!"

    Best Regards,

    Rada
    http://rada-steppingsideways.blogspot.com


  27. Mahadevan Says:

    Hilarious. Many of us, the older generations, are a little self conscious in front of a camera.

    You have the excellent English trait of laughing at yourself - a great quality indeed.


  28. eve's lungs Says:

    Quick - I need Anita's contact details . I look like death in all my photographs ! So you do have company - me and most of your commenters !


  29. choxbox Says:

    Too good Usha!

    You should see my wedding pix with the 2 inch thick make-up on my face.


  30. Glad I have company in this area ... none of my passport photos have turned out good :( I have given up on them and now I just re-use the ones taken almost 7 yrs back.


  31. Usha Says:

    Hi all:
    Thank you for your comments particularly those who wrote in to say that you share the same relationship with the camera or the photgrapher. YOu cannot imagine what a morale booster it was.

    altoid: Yes powdered paati to be precise!

    Veena: i have them all together some place. Will get hold of them and upload one of these days!

    Choxbox - let us exchange the painted looks when we meet - may be it will make us feel better.


  32. Pooh Says:

    I have a photographer husband and he still does not click flattering pics of me...
    I tell him exactly what I want but still end up looking funny!
    So the tip I have learned it, click and click. In the digital era, it makes it easier to click 50 pictures in the same outfit and choose the best one...


  33. vEENs Says:

    hehehe!!!!

    Actually I am sure I have the same problemmo!

    I am sure you will laugh to death if you see some of my photos!
    :D

    where is yur photographer friend based seriously?@ I need some GOOD photos of MYSELF ;)
    for matrimonial sites :D
    my dad is depressed because of my pics :D


  34. anita Says:

    gosh, yes. you are definitely a challenge :) the trick is to look at the camera like a friend and pretend it's not really there. but that obviously hasn't gone down as yet with you! but, but... i can think of several people who can give you lessons. i am still hoping i can catch you sometime in the right frame!! :)