“Men who are dandies and women who are darlings rule the world, at least they should do so” Oscar Wilde
Once my friend had a look at my snapshot and told me that I wasn’t photogenic. I asked him to explain further. He added that I didn’t look natural in photographs as I tend to become self-conscious whenever I was being clicked. And because of that, my expression and posture seemed to be so ‘out-of-place’.
I shot back by saying how else would one look sitting stiff with a straight back, blinding side lights focusing on you and the photographer asking you to adjust this or that every second. Not satisfied with my rejoinder, my friend persisted saying that many people didn’t mind all that and they looked so natural, so fresh and so … The rest was lost for my ‘not-so-verbose’ friend was at a loss of words to explain himself further.
Now my curiosity was piqued and I started observing. I had a lot of opportunities to observe for magazines, newspapers carried piles of photos, mostly pleasant with beaming and smiling people. And they all looked so good.
Then I saw many of my friends ‘all smiles’ in their hall tickets, Id cards, Driving Licence, family photos etc. All this made me feel somewhat inadequate and I became determined to take the bull by its horns.
I got my opportunity quite soon. I was attending a marriage in the family and a video shoot was planned for the event. The camera was moving in a clinical fashion gradually coming close to me. My first reaction was to try to escape from it but with people all around me and the chairs being placed awkwardly, taking to my heels was a difficult proposition.
Besides the last thing I wanted to do was attract attention, so I looked around and saw that the others were chatting away oblivious to the camera. I trued to emulate them but all the time I was surreptitiously keeping an eye on the camera’s progress. As it came nearer and nearer, I started sweating.
I was afraid to wipe off the sweat as it wouldn’t look ‘natural’. I just maintained my rigid ramrod posture. Finally the camera came and went by. A few days later we were watching the video and everyone felt that I wasn’t looking natural. Someone said I was too stiff. I gave them a wan smile and escaped to my room as soon as possible.
I talked about it with my friend who wisely told me that determination would take make nowhere. Instead I should try to relax, perhaps think of a funny incident and that will do the trick.
Soon enough I required photos for some college work and I prepared to visit the photo studio as one would prepare for a major exam or an interview.
I chalked out a perfect plan. I would watch ‘Dennis The Menace’ of t.v. and then being in a relaxed mood, would immediately go the studio and be done with this tiresome task.
The initial plan went of well and I reached the photo studio in a good mood. But I found that there were many people waiting ahead of me. I killed some time by checking the crease of my shirt, combing my hair etc. But if anyone thinks that I was relaxed when I went it, then he is sadly mistaken.
I took my position, the photographer switched on the bright lights and then it started again : head to the right, raise the chin, close the lips a bit, open the eyes etc.
The final command was ‘say Cheese’ and then there was the click. Finally it was all over and I knew what people would say when they saw the snap : ‘You don’t look natural’.
And so there’s no getting past the fact that I am a chronic ‘camera-shy’ person. Now when one desires for something rather passionately and then fails to get it despite valiant efforts, then he becomes indifferent to it.
Likewise, nowadays I am apathetic to the fact that I don’t have a photogenic face. And so whenever someone says, ‘smile’ and clicks a snap, I simply grin and bear it.
This article appeared under the ‘Have Your Say’ column in the supplement of a local newspaper, ‘Indian Express’ in Pune, India on August 9, 1996.
Again it harks back to a time before the digital revolution when getting photographed was an event in itself. Today one has so much choice in managing one’s look. All the same my approach has not changed much over the years; even today I just grin and bear it.