“Alright.” I say with a smile in my voice. “Which one of these two do you like better?”
“Ugh!” The white haired, overweight woman says and pushed the proofs away from her. “I hate all of them. I don’t even want to be in the book. I look terrible.”
The woman gets up and walks quickly away, pulling her poor husband in her wake like a sinking ship. She was not an ugly woman, I know, I have seen ugly women in my day. She looked a bit like Paula Dean, which is to say she was an older white woman with large diamonds on each finger and perfectly quaffed hair. But unlike Paula Dean, this woman hated herself. She really, really didn’t like the way she looked.
I run into women like this from time to time, oh there are a lot of woman who joke about being old and fat and ugly, but these woman take it all to heart. They have a truly fucked up self image. Now I’m no Brad Pitt, but I can look in the mirror and nod in approval at what I see. Then again, I’m a man, and I haven’t spent my life dreaming of being a size zero and gracing the cover of Vogue. The odds are good that this woman was a good deal closer to her ideal when she was younger-but she may have hated herself then as well. Nothing is more annoying than some 16 year old twit who weighs 60 pounds moaning about how fat they are.
On the other hand, working a black church, you’ll find very few, if any, self esteem issues. There the woman ooh and ah over their portraits and say things like-Hmm, don’t I look cute in that picture? Instead of wanting to burn the pictures, they’ll spend ten minutes deciding which one they like the best-because they look so good in all of them. The problem there is that they are not always in a position to buy the five hundred dollars worth of portraits they pick out.
And that may be the rich woman’s ploy-she didn’t get rich by writing a lot of checks. But I’ve seen a lot of woman past their prime who seem unable to deal with the idea of growing older.
Men can be a bit vain as well. I’ve had men in their 70s and 80s come in with portraits taken while they were in their 20s and say they want to look like that. Uh, sure, I’ll do what I can. They are seldom happy with the results either.
A common refrain I hear from older folks is:You never know how bad you look, until you have your picture took. Most of them are not serious, time takes it’s toil on all of us.
One of the standard poses I do is the woman standing behind the man with her hand on his shoulder. For some reason this pose makes people think of American Gothic, even though that is not the pose used in American Gothic. They all say things like-This is a pose for old people! This can be funny when the person talking is pretty damned advanced in years. Of course, that’s part of the problem, none of us recognize that old person in the mirror-we are forever children in our minds, or at least young adults.
So for some people, having a portrait taken is a tragic event. It is a brush with reality they can easily enough avoid in the rest of their lives. I had one old woman who said she hadn’t looked in a mirror in five years. Needless to say she was a bit shocked at what she saw in the portraits. There was another older woman who broke down and cried when she saw her portraits. I’ve had countless people tell me that the pictures are not of them, that they don’t look like THAT.
Denial is not just a river in Egypt.
It’s not uncommon for someone to say they don’t like the pictures, and then have one of the kids tell them that it looks just like them. The standard response is-Yeah I know, that why I don’t like them.
There’s an Assembly Line Portrait Studio called Glamor Shots that specializes in old school Hollywood style poses and a more than generous application of Photoshop effects. Just like my hero George Hurrell, their goal is to turn a human being into an idealized porcelain statue. I don’t have the luxury of time needed for such work-my Subjects get the images straight out of the camera. There are times when I wish I had a few minutes to tweak the images.
Another thing that happens is people looking at an image and seeing nothing but some flaw that is virtually invisible to everyone else. I’ve had people complain about scars, birthmarks, uneven eyes, and all manner of minor imperfections-things I honestly don’t see until they are pointed out. I always feel like saying, yeah, this is a photograph, the camera can only capture what is in front of it.
Of course, we do offer retouching for an additional charge.
Of course the real problem with these people who hate themselves is that they are a pure waste of time and they are taking money out of my pocket. They knew what they looked like before they came in and that was a time slot that a Buyer might have used.
But then, that’s my general complaint about all Assembly Line Portrait Companies, they spent a little too much time getting any warm body through the door and not enough time qualifying the prospects. The reason for this is that unlike say, McDonalds or IKEA, no one goes into an Assembly Line Portrait Studio intending to buy what we are selling.
But you at least know you are having a photograph taken, and if you would really rather go to the dentist, please, go ahead and go to the dentist instead.