Why I Hate Having My Picture Taken

Illustrated by: Paola Delucca
I hate having my picture taken. HATE HATE HATE.

When I told my person, R, I was writing an essay on this topic, his response was, “Ha! You should write a weekly column!”

Uh huh.

I’d like to think I’m decent-looking IRL. I’m happy with my body. I’ve got good hair. My face is okay if I squint at it in the right light. But a photo forces me to confront the following: Either a) I’m just not photogenic, anti-photogenic even, or b) I’m not as decent-looking as I’d like to think. I’ve managed a respectable approximation of Patti Smith’s Keith Richards haircut, but I don’t have her bone structure. Or her porcelain skin. Nor do I have a Robert Mapplethorpe hanging around to snap me on the fly.

No offense, R. R takes great photos, actually. It’s just that there’s something wrong with this particular subject, and also I’d prefer if he worked exclusively with a Polaroid camera. Anyhow.

I should give up already, and not look at a single image of myself. Which leads me back to a) People should not be allowed to take photos of me.

Not only do I hate the photos, I hate the posing. I don’t know how to smile. It feels fake, and I’m not good at fake. My mom used to get so frustrated when she tried to take photos of me as a kid.
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Illustrated by: Paola Delucca
“Smile!” she’d say. “Stop making that face. Laramie, you’re making that face!”

Which only made me make that face even harder.

That face, if you’re a camera-phobe like me, is this oh-my-god-please-don’t-take-a-picture-of-me, no-I-will-not-smile-I-can’t-smile, PLEASE-JUST-TAKE-THE-GODDAMN-PICTURE grimace that seizes your muscles and cannot be shaken or reshaped into a smile. A smile? What is that, even? How would I do that? Right now? While you’re standing there, yelling at me?

When I was a kid, I wasn’t worried about how the photos would turn out. The film would have to go to a lab to be processed. We wouldn’t see prints for weeks, months even. There wasn’t the mortifying immediacy digital photography has blessed us with. The glaringly obvious cause and effect. Oh look — that is what that face looks like. I don’t remember hating photos of me then. Still, I didn’t want that thing pointed at me.

Let’s get back to Polaroid for a sec. I love Polaroid. The Polaroids are the only photos from our wedding I can stand to look at. It’s like they’re pre-filtered. Beautifully filtered. Somehow I don’t even hate the faces I’m making. I recently floated the idea to R that I could tolerate him taking more photos if he would kindly put filters on all of them before he showed them to me. He laughed me off, but come on, man! This is a genius solution, I feel.

Technology is an incredible thing, but HD is not the camera-phobe’s friend. And the advent of that particular technology, sadly, coincided precisely with the beginnings of wrinkles on my face. Unless I’d just never noticed them before? In which case, FUCK YOU, HD. (Fuck you either way.) I still remember the first high-definition photo R shot of me. He was over the moon, on a tech high with his new iPhone. I was horrified. I am not exaggerating when I say that, self-esteem-wise, nothing has been the same since.

Not only do I hate the photos, I hate the posing.

That’s not all, though. My chosen profession has also been tough on my self-esteem.

I’m a director for TV and film, so I have to be hypercritical of everything, all the time. I don’t mean to complain. I love this. The job is exquisitely suited to me. But it does mean I spend a lot of time judging people by their appearances. When I’m casting a new project, I spend weeks, months, scouring headshots and audition tapes.

Is this the one?
What about this one?
Is she pretty enough?
Is she too pretty?
Does he read as Italian, Jewish, Californian, intellectual?
Do you buy him as a member of the counterculture?
Wait, uh-oh, he’s a little cross-eyed from this angle.


It sounds harsh, but it’s my responsibility. Unfortunately, I can’t help but turn that same harsh gaze on myself.

Is she cool enough?
Young enough?
Does she look like the director of a rock 'n' roll biopic?
What about a coming-of-age thing about an 18-year-old addict?
Why is she making that face?


Oof.

I thought directing would at least put me safely behind the camera. But that has not been the case. With the advent of social media and the new never-ending-ness of self-promotion, cameras are pointed at everyone on set, whether we are acting or directing or script supervising — another thing I do.
Illustrated by: Paola Delucca
This fall, I worked with Jessie Kahnweiler on The Skinny, a comedic web series about bulimia that Jessie wrote, directed, and starred in for this here website. I was amazed, throughout our three-week shoot, by how comfortable Jessie was in front of the camera. This was beyond typical actor-level comfort. Actors can be a pretty vain bunch. They care about lighting and camera angles and, like, don’t generally want to jam their butts right up into the lens. Jessie was fearless. I kept thinking, this woman has body issues? She’s a fucking badass. And she has this huge, infectious smile. She radiates. In every frame of video, every publicity shot, every shitty iPhone pic. Sigh.

A photo got out of me on set that I kind of loved because you can see me being an awesome scripty, discussing a scene in depth with Jessie. I also very much hated it because…well. I don’t look like Patti Smith. My hair isn’t even doing what it’s supposed to.

I hated that I hated that photo. Enough was enough. So I decided to take action.

Over the past few months, I’ve started forcing myself to take selfies. I figure I ought to get better acquainted with my own image. If I’m not so startled every time I see it, maybe I can learn to hate it a little bit less.

I had been, as a matter of principle, firmly against selfies. Not only did I rarely take them, I looked down on other people for taking them. And posting them. Ick. But Rachel Syme changed my mind with a long-form piece she wrote for Matter, titled “SELFIE: The revolutionary potential of your own face.” Now I think of my selfie-taking as a radical act. A feminist act. It doesn’t have to be about seeking attention. It can be just for me.

Surprise bonus: I am now way into all of your selfies. Who knew?

And of course, the Bestie app. It has real-time filters, you guys. I can trick myself into thinking I look almost as good as I’d like to think I look.

Or is that not the point?

The point is, I should quit studying photos of Patti at age 23. When I see her in her 50s and beyond (especially as captured by rock 'n' roll photographers Steven Sebring or Anton Corbijn), I’m like FUCK YEAH. And here’s what I’ve realized: It’s not about her porcelain skin, after all. It never was. It’s about her I-don’t-give-a-fuck-itude. That’s what made me fall for Patti in the first place. That’s what I need to start channeling.

Snap away, motherfuckers! Take all the pictures you need!

Okay, maybe not quite. But I’ll get there.

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Laramie Dennis is a theater-director-turned-film-director-slash-screenwriter based in Los Angeles.

It's your body. It's your summer. Enjoy them both. Check out more #TakeBackTheBeach here.
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