An open letter …
On being camera-shy
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.