Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Say Cheese

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who are photogenic and those who are camera shy.

Did you know that there are at least three definitions of photogenic (all adjectives)?
  1. forming an attractive subject for photography or having features that look well* in a photograph: a photogenic face.
  2. (Biology) producing or emitting light, as certain bacteria; luminiferous; phosphorescent.
  3. (Medical) produced or caused by light, as a skin condition.
This is my mom and dad on one of their
first dates. Don't you love that dress?
(Red and white, of course.)
My father argues that people who are dubbed photogenic are really just happy to have their picture taken. They look at the camera and smile, so the pictures come out great. You may have already guessed that my dad has always been considered photogenic.

My mom, on the other hand, has hardly ever taken a photo that does her justice. She's a lovely woman — petite and well-dressed with perfectly fine features, including blue eyes and dimples. Why, then, does she have such difficulty getting a good picture? Part of it may be that she wears glasses. No matter how trendy and cool your glasses are today, by the time you look at your picture five years from now, they will look dated (and probably ridiculous).

My children are all beautiful (of course), but one of them (I won't say which one — OK, the middle boy, but don't tell anyone) has not taken a bad or even slightly not great picture since he was a very chubby baby. It doesn't matter if he's smiling or not, or looking at the photographer or not, or even if he's happy about getting his picture taken or not. The boy is simply photogenic.

When I was in grade school, I knew a perfect girl named Mary Davies. Her name was perfect. Her freckles were perfect. Her knee socks never fell down. There were only two things about Mary Davies that were not perfect. The first one I tried not to take personally, but for some reason, every year Mary Davies got the flu and threw up on my desk. The second imperfection was that for the six years we were in class together, Mary Davies never took a good school picture. One year her eyes were closed. One year her always perfect hair was sticking straight up. One year her nose was bright red. I hope her parents didn't rely on harried school photographers and occasionally took her to get a decent professional photo taken.

I used to be pretty photogenic, by my dad's original definition. I smiled, I looked at the camera, and usually my pictures turned out all right. Even my driver's license picture taken by the notoriously unforgiving cameras at the DMV usually were pretty good. In fact, one was so good that I worked really hard at not getting a single moving violation so I could renew my license by mail — twice — which meant I got to keep that great photo for 12 years.

Suddenly, however, I find that whatever photogenic quality I may once have possessed  has completely evaporated. I look even more overweight than I feel, my smile isn't what it used to be and I always seem to be at an awkward angle. Maybe I'm just getting old. Damn, I wish I still had that driver's license. I could use it for my avatar. Or maybe I'm still photogenic, but only as it pertains to definitions #2 and #3. On the other hand, a speaker at my writers group advised us to get our author photos taken even if we weren't quite ready to be published: "You'll never look younger than you do right now."

What about you? Click here to tell us whether the camera loves you or hates you.

*A point of grammar — do you look "well" in a photo, or do you look "good"? I always thought if someone told you that you look well, it meant healthy. What say you?


Anonymous said...

Hey, Sus.

First, I'd say that if you looked "well", it means you look "healthy". Otherwise it would have to mean that you - i.e., your photographic image - would be staring back at the observer, and that's a rather eerie concept. Bottom line: inanimate objects look good; people look well (in either sense of the word).

As far as being photogenic, I don't believe that I glow in the dark (although I must admit I've never checked), so I'll have to stick with definition #1. And since I don't believe that I can be an impartial observer, I'll have to rely on others to pass judgment. When you do, please be kind (and using pictures in profile ain't fair...).


Susan Bearman said...

Jim — to your first point, agreed. Neither of us shall ever be presented in profile in a photograph in print or online. Be it so decreed.

Back to well and good. I'm not sure I agree with you that well applies to people and good applies to inanimate objects when using the verb "look". This grammar maven claims that the choice of "well" or "good" depends on the verb in the sentence. She further explains that "look" is a linking verb, and as such can be modified by either "well" or "good".

This site explains the difference very well, or, if you prefer, does a good job of explaining the difference. It reiterates that as a linking verb, "look" can be modified correctly by either "well" or "good", but goes on to say: "Looking good refers to attractiveness; looking well refers to health."

I have a friend who says things like: "You look well in that ___________ (scarf, color, whatever)." This has always made me feel as if other outfits make me look ill, which perhaps is what she means to say. I think the answer may be to choose more precise adjectives: "You (not you personally) look hideous in horizontal stripes" or "You look particularly lovely in purple."

Sherl Bearman said...

Well, being a photographer who hates to have her picture taken I have a unique perspective. I get my groove thing on at the mere thought of taking pictures, but I hate having mine taken, I hate how I look in them and I think pictures of me shatter the illusion that I have created in my own mind of how I should look. I am terribly distraught when that illusion clashes with reality.

If your fugly, there is usually nothing a photographer can do to make you look beautiful. If faced with such a subject I would go for the look that captures the persons character or as I call it, a picture that only a mother would love.

As an artist and photographer I not only can see the ah ha moment in my viewfinder when all of the cosmic tumblers have aligned and the subject’s body position, clothes, and face all come together to make for a great picture, but I can feel a little spark that only I can feel that tells me that’s the golden shot.

Sometimes being photogenic can also mean being able to create a mood or feeling in a photograph. I photographed a t-ball team one year and 4 year olds are not always cooperative. One little boy would not smile no matter how many funny faces I made. Later, when choosing the pictures for printing I came across that little boy’s photo and realized that his clinging desperately to his bat, chubby pouting cheeks, his head and body in the saddest sorriest slumped position was actually a masterpiece. I had created a picture that not only a mom could love, but that truly captured this child’s character and transcended the norms for cute 4 year old t-ball pictures.

Now, some people are good looking and yet just take bad pictures. We start our session with the highest hopes, but somewhere despite by best direction and positioning and encouragement, I know that this person’s beauty is not being captured in the picture. The picture is good but does not live up to the true beauty of the person. Case in point, I have a sister, who by the way, was always a size zero, has so many friends, has an enchanting personally that everyone she ever meets just gushes over, and is so incredibly gorgeous with her squared jawline and high cheek bones, but she is also so, so utterly unphotogenic. I have to admit that I take a wee little bit of pleasure in that.

We are genetically predisposed to be attracted to a certain type of face. Human perception of beauty and how that perception has driven our species to draw in mates is an interesting subject to me. There is actually a formula for people’s faces that will predict whether they will be considered beautiful and more attractive to mates.

Research has shown that when you lay one image over another, over another of those who are considered beautiful, there jawlines, cheekbones, mouth and width between their eyes all line up rather closely as to be mathematically significant. We are also attracted to those who have a unique beauty. Those who do not fit the standards humans have developed over the years to define the absolutely beautiful that walk amongst us, but yet have some sort of special quality, and you must stop and marvel over their features when you see them. My sister in laws #3 child fits that example. There is just something about that boy, who as the blogger states “can’t take a bad picture” that people are just attracted to. They love his hair and eyes. She has even mentioned that mothers look at him and can’t decide which is more intriguing the eyes or the hair.

I guess when it comes down to it, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. Mom’s always think their precious bundles of joy are absolutely the cuties babies on the planet. I think there is beauty in every person but it is often defined by different standards and by love. I think that when it comes to photographs and ones photogenic ability as defined by the human race, no matter how beautiful a photographer’s subject, you either have it or you don’t. Beauty does not always mean photogenic.

Anonymous said...

On days when I feel good about myself the pictures turn out great (not good or well). When I feel ugly or dorky or shy, they are not just bad, but terrible. Perhaps being photogenic is a state of mind?

Anonymous said...

Funny, entertaining as always, Susan.

I think a lot of it has to do with how one feels about one's appearance at the time the picture is taken.

That's my two cents. . . .

Susan Bearman said...

Sheryl — looks like I struck a nerve. You win for the longest 2KoP comment ever. Thank you. I think you're right about beautiful people. Some people are classically pretty, but truly beautiful people seem to have something unique, even exaggerated about their features.

Anon #2 — I do think photogenic is in part a state of mind. Still, it's been a long time since I've taken a "great" picture.

Anon #3 — Thank you, and I agree with your two cents.

Anonymous said...

See great family pictures here: Going to the Dogs.

Pam Martin said...

I have severe 'photophobia' which I'm working on loosening up with...Not always easy!

Something about my (now silvering!)) strawberry blonde hair, my redhead coloring, oh who knows what?, just me--I am not photogenic.

Which has been more than frustrating at a number of points in my life when I felt I was looking good (and was being told I was) yet couldn't get a decent shot of myself!

As I've gotten older (oddly enough) I've learned more how to get a good pic of myself--and so much (all?) of it has to do with lighting. I'm not sure I agree with Sheryl's comment above; in the right light, at the right angle, few faces are 'fugly'.

Here's a post I did on the issue some time ago (which people seem to like to come back to view often):