Portrait of artist with unsettling smile

I remember one of my uni lecturers saying that every picture tells a story. For mine, that story is normally ‘I just got out of maximum security prison and I’m coming for you.’ I don’t photograph well. I have two smiles: The first is a seemingly casual close-lipped smile – more ennui than ingénue – that looks like I know a secret, and that secret is disdain. The second is a toothy little number that looks like every single emotion is exploding from my face like an over-caffeinated Movie World back up dancer. There is no middle ground, and my natural resting face suggests something terrible once happened to me and I am now dead inside. There’s not a lot to work with.

So when Pan Macmillan requested some author images I reluctantly prepared to bust out a little bit of #1, #2 and heck, why not, even ol’ dead eyes for the camera. Author photos are important. They accompany press stuff, adorn book jackets and fill that insatiable urge humans have to have a visual reference for all things. They also, truth on the table, are part of marketing authors. Depending on the genre or style, they should convey the sense of someone you want to be/be friends with/be in awe of. For me, I suppose I want to seem like someone who will meet you for brunch, make you chuckle, then promise to pay you back because I left my wallet in the car again. You know, your bog standard friend. Easy, right? RIGHT?

Photo attempt 1: Me and John down by the schoolyard

My man-friend John has a fancy camera and I take a ‘glass half empty’ approach to my bank balance, so we decided we could produce a quality image on our own. I took my usual approach to grooming – get up, wash face, leave house – and off we went to CERES, a local environmental park. We wandered around for a couple of hours find interesting things for me to stand in front of and smile demonically into the camera. There was lots of this –

John: Okay, smile.

Me: I am smiling. This is how I smile.

John: …Really?

And also lots of me hissing like a vampire and covering my face whenever people who were not part of our ‘photo shoot’ strolled by.

The results were average; of the several hundred photos there were one or two where my eyes were open and I didn’t appear to be wincing in pain. So these were sent to Pan Mac. They responded with a very nice, very kindly worded suggestion that perhaps I might like to have another try. In fairness, while Beyoncé wakes up looking flawless, I wake up looking like the Babadook.

This led to…

Photo attempt 2: Friends with camera skills!

I don’t wear make up and have what we of the Mediterranean fondly describe as ‘ethnic hair’: it’s thick, it’s curly and it doesn’t give a crap what you do to it because it just wants to BE FREE! In preparation for the photos, two work colleagues helped me buy make up (ie I sat there mutely while they conversed with the makeup girls, before I helpfully explained ‘I just want to look like a better version of me, please.’) I also got my hair did, which for me means gripping the arm rests as a determined hairdressers goes forth at my hair with an electric hedge trimmer. The night before, in preparation, I watched The September Issue, practising my ‘Wintour is coming’ glare and thrusting my elbows about in awkward model-esque shapes. Windmill! Vogue! Popped collarbone! Strut!

My flat is dark and gloomy and looks like somewhere goblins come to dwell and hoard stolen coins and kidnapped first-born royal infants, so we took the photos at a friend’s house. I did my windmill arms and vogue face until my friends asked me to sit quietly and look normal. Then my friend adjusted some settings on the camera and just held down the button on autofire, figuring surely there’d be one or two decent ones. This theory, based loosely on the mathematics of a thousand monkeys at a thousand type writers*, worked and we managed to capture a bunch of photos where I look like someone you just might brunch with if you’re other plans fell through.

So hurrah! And this will now be my author photo for the next decade, at least.

*don’t think too deeply about that.

4 thoughts on “Portrait of artist with unsettling smile

  1. You always look good to me and I love the photos took at Ceres. I thought they looked very authorise. Mum

  2. I am going to rewrite my comment because some gremlins seem to have interfered with my typing. You always look good to me and I love the photos that john took at Ceres. I thought they looked very authorish.mumxxx

    1. Thanks Ma. That clears up the ‘authorise’ thing. I thought you might have meant ‘authoritative’, which it doesn’t.

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