An open let­ter …

On be­ing cam­era-shy

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - MEGAN NICOL REED - Do write. megan­ni­col­reed@gmail.com

Cu­ri­ously, I find, when you and I meet in the flesh, you’re usu­ally keener to talk to me about my photo by­line than my words. You tell me I look bet­ter or dif­fer­ent, that you pre­fer this photo to the pre­vi­ous. Some­times you get so het-up, you write to me about it. From one reader re­cently: “Your clothes are ill-fit­ting and your hand is de­formed.” She has a keen eye. Ear­lier this year I sought my hus­band’s ap­proval of the photo I’d cho­sen; he choked with laugh­ter. What, I asked. Look, he said. And, sure enough, there was my hand, form­ing a ring as if im­i­tat­ing a sex­ual act, which for pro­pri­ety’s sake I shall not name. Of the dozens of images taken, though, it was the only one I could live with, and so the edi­tor kindly had the of­fend­ing hand pho­to­shopped. Get a new pic­ture, urged my correspondent. Make haste. But I’d sooner walk across hot coals than go through another shoot.

Two weeks ago a group of us de­scended upon Hawke’s Bay for a week­end of good times. Some of the ev­i­dence made its way on to so­cial me­dia. Back in Auck­land, a friend asked me if I hadn’t gone af­ter all. You weren’t in any of the photos, she said. It was true. Im­promptu photo shoots had punc­tu­ated both our days, and our nights, and I had done my best to hide. Some­times my pho­to­genic travel com­pan­ions would drag me into the fray, ex­hort­ing me to stand side on, one shoul­der back, tits out, chin down, eyes up. I felt like a this­tle caught in a posy of ear­licheer. And when I saw the re­sults, I saw that I was right, that I was squat next to their grace, awk­ward next to their spunk, up­tight next to their free-spirit­ed­ness. And so I re­solved afresh to steer clear of the cam­era, to not ruin any more group shots. By the Sun­day we were al­ready rem­i­nisc­ing, dis­mayed by our trip’s im­pend­ing end. Look­ing back over the many, many mo­ments doc­u­mented, I felt sad, that, by re­mov­ing my­self from so many of the frames, some­how I had missed out. Avoid­ing the cam­era nor­mally sug­gests a lack of van­ity, but I won­dered if it was not the op­po­site. If it was not, in fact, the worst kind of van­ity. If I can­not ac­cept that’s what I re­ally look like to oth­ers: tense and dull and shut­tered.

And then, flick­ing through those images, a small mir­a­cle oc­curred; ac­tu­ally the mir­a­cle had oc­curred the night be­fore, but here laid the proof. In a mo­ment of mad­ness I had re­moved my dress and re­placed it with a jaguar-print blazer, shed just min­utes ear­lier by a man whose in­ter­pre­ta­tion of cock­tail at­tire had been a suit in full an­i­mal-print. I like to think I looked like a shorter, whiter Grace Jones, which is prob­a­bly stretch­ing the truth. You could glimpse my undies, though, and what I did look like was a woman ca­pa­ble of wild fun.

Group sit­u­a­tions, as I have writ­ten be­fore, can make me anx­ious. I worry whether ev­ery­one will get on. Whether peo­ple will like me. Be­fore we left I’d made a prom­ise: I would keep my­self nice, I wouldn’t bang on in ways that were bossy or bor­ing. I kept, I think, my word. How­ever I had not bar­gained on this reck­less, out­ra­geous cat lady. Had not con­sid­ered oth­ers might en­joy her. That I might like her. Ought I to adopt her, I won­dered. Be­come her even? Sadly, en­sconced once again in dead­lines and school runs, al­co­hol-free days and high in­ten­sity in­ter­val train­ing, she has beaten a speedy re­treat. But I feel em­bold­ened just know­ing she is there, danc­ing fever­ishly some­where in­side me. And I think, per­haps, I might chan­nel her, just a lit­tle, when next I am pho­tographed. FOL­LOW­ING ON Wil­helmina says she is not ac­cus­tomed to writ­ing to news­pa­pers, but was mo­ti­vated to do so af­ter read­ing last week’s col­umn on my shift­ing thoughts around mil­len­ni­als. “I once read that while man has the abil­ity to de­stroy him­self and much of life on this planet, he will not de­stroy the planet it­self and life will even­tu­ally re­turn — but prob­a­bly not hu­mans … Is it wrong that some­times I find that com­fort­ing? I would ask why it is that you hope mil­len­ni­als will fig­ure out a way to re­pair the Earth? Is that not teach­ing our chil­dren that it’s some­one else’s prob­lem?”

Avoid­ing the cam­era nor­mally sug­gests a lack of van­ity, but I won­dered if it was not the op­po­site. If it was not, in fact, the worst kind of van­ity.

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