Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Headshot: Vanity


It was fascinating--and actually a bit embarrassing--to watch myself, yesterday, as I posed for a series of headshots in connection with my current shameless drive for self-promotion. Well, I like to think that it's the book I'm promoting, not myself, but I have to admit there's a good deal of overlap between the two!

I have been using the headshot you see in the right hand sidebar of The Buddha Diaries for quite some time, though I can't remember precisely when it was taken. Turns out it doesn't have sufficiently "high resolution" for print purposes, and my publisher, Paul Gerhards of When This Is, That Is, had written to request one to accompany an interview/review coming out in a Dallas-Fort Worth are magazine. I have, in fact, been getting a number os such requests, so now seemed the time to make a new one...

With neither time nor inclination for a professional job, I dug out our Canon digital and its accompanying manual to find out how to go about making a high resolution photo. The instructions proved surprisingly easy to find, and I summoned all my technical skills to re-set the camera. It happened to be one of the two afternoons each week when Daniel, my part-time assistant, reports for duty, so I had him take the first series of pictures.

I should confess at this point that I had given some conscious thought as to how I should "look" for this picture. My Buddhist critic looked over my shoulder with bemusement as I picked, first, a red shirt, then looked in the mirror decided that the color was too strong and "faded out" my face. Such vanity! I watched myself thinking, in the mirror, that I should look more like a "writer"--such pretension!--and went back to the closet to select a blue work-shirt, one that I in fact rarely wear. It suited, I decided, both purposes, color and style. For effect, I added the black cardigan that my daughter, Sarah, gave me for Christmas. There. The "look"!

Again, with more self-consciousness than modesty would allow, I picked out two backgrounds which I thought neutral enough to make me shine, and put Daniel to work. I noticed the care with which I strove for the right facial expression, the right smile. It's a long time since I paid such close attention to the muscles that govern the movement of the cheeks and the lips...

The results of Daniel's effort, and mine, were decidedly mixed. They ranged from the slightly goofy...


to the plain idiotic...


... though I have to say I scrapped the worst of them in camera. We searched through a dozen or more photos and came up with this...



as being the pick of the bunch.

Still, my vanity was not satisfied. The backgrounds, I decided after all, were too bland; the expressions not quite right. Too much scrawny neck. Too many creases around the eyes. I did not, I have to say, appear quite as cool and writerly as I had intended, nor indeed quite so handsome. Since Ellie was due back soon from her afternoon errands, I decided to wait, so that she could bring her skills to bear on the problem. Not only is she gifted with an excellent, discerning eye for location, she knows my quirks well, and can be a demanding sartorial critic. I put her to work.

She scouted the house for possible locations, and came up with one in front of a big painting by Jeff Koegel--the artist, coincidentally, who came up with the cover image for "Persist."

The digital camera, I have to say, comes in remarkably handy on such occasions. You can snap off a couple of dozen shots without having to worry about printing the results, and examine the pictures along the way. Ellie proved adept at refining the angles and distances...



... and came up with a number of perfectly acceptable results. Indulge me (as I indulged myself!) if I show you another...


... somewhat more "soulful", do you think? But maybe a bit "blurry." And here's the final choice:



I tell you all this, I promise, in the spirit of good fun and with a wry sense of the vanity involved. It's important, obviously, for promotional purposes, to get it right. That's one thing. It's quite another to watch myself making those self-conscious choices and posing like a peacock to make myself look good. Then again, I look at the wonderful pictures of Than Geoff (Thanissaro Bhikkhu) that accompany his magazine articles, and wonder: did he pose for his pictures, and did he make choices like I did? Or is he just naturally and unselfconsciously photogenic?

1 comment:

Gary said...

Your process of looking for a way to be seen sparked memories of Walter Benjamin's book, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction and John Berger's book, Ways of Seeing. Thoughts of Irving Penn and Cindy Sherman rushed into my mind just after.

Picturing ones self and sharing the process in a series of photographs and the associated ramifications certainly does reveal the complexity of coming to such a conclusion.

We are pictured throughout our lives by others in swaddling clothes, at school were parents choose the ONE, in photo booths with and without others
where we may choose to play roles or embrace semi privately our friend/lover, by public entities
such as the DMV and the military or police authorities but rarely ourselves. Making a self portrait levels the aim directly at our inner mirror.
What will we be willing to share? How far can we take it and what are our limits?

Thanks for exposing the process both blurred and
tentative, uncertain and finally decisive. The divisions of choice are complex when only one can be chosen.