My mother needed some retail therapy after the dramatic hospitalization of my father last week, so today we headed to the mall and I sat on a stool and kibitzed while she got a makeover. Afterwards, the cosmetologist (who much admired my existing make-up job), said, “If you like exciting, you’ll love our new mascara.”
The new thing, she told us, was to go very neutral on the eyes, and then use super-electric blue eyeliner/mascara. “It makes your eyes look much brighter,” she reported. My mother, peering at me, agreed: “The whites of your eyes look whiter.”
Trying to get a good picture of my lashes for Twitter to opine on led me to another round of selfies. I spent most of my life abhorring pictures of myself, and a lot of that involved my having internalized society’s unreasonable expectations of a woman’s appearance. Finding out how much of the photography we see of women (and men!) is artificial was a huge revelation for me… and I also wanted to stop being upset with myself for my imperfections. Armed with those weapons, I’ve been taking photos as a way to understand that artificiality.
Here is today’s selfie:
And my observations:
1. For every one good photo I get, I take nine or ten. My photographer friends who do this professionally report taking hundreds of photos to get the one shot they like. I remind myself thus that it doesn’t matter how many photos I look awful in, because eventually I’m going to find the one I look good in, as long as I keep in mind the principles of Photographing People.
2. One of those principles is that camera angle is hugely important, even in dumb quick photos like this. There will be an angle your face looks nice in… and a dozen where your jaw looks clumpy, your neck fat, your forehead too large, etc, etc. The people who are photogenic really do have a special talent, because most of humankind looks kind of awkward in stills.
3. Lighting even in candids like this is also important. Not just the color of the light, but the angle. The slant it’s hitting you at can accentuate the circles under your eyes, or erase your jaw line, or make your face look puffy (!). And the color of the light can make you look cadaverous, grungy or sickly, depending on whether it’s a warm (reddish) light, a golden light, or a blueish light. If I hate the photos I’m taking, I will often walk to a different location, or turn my back and try it that way.
4. There’s a reason people put make-up on for cameras, because cameras will find your every fault and accentuate them. One of the challenges in candids is that you’re often sweaty, tired, you’ve eaten your lip gloss, etc. But you can sometimes make up for those faults by paying attention to lighting and angle.
5. Finally, your facial expression is a big deal…! This was the hard part for me, because I feel awkward in front of cameras (see above: hating photos of myself), so I tend to end up wearing what my mom calls muecas (in my Spanish, that’s ‘masks’ or ‘funny faces’). My smiles look like grimaces, which… isn’t helpful. Also, as the Renaissance painters will tell you, your face in repose is often lovely, but when you start moving it through a range of expressions, it can start looking really bizarre and ugly, especially if you halt the camera at the right moment. The challenge, then, is a genuine expression that doesn’t contort your face too much. (This is also a challenge when you’re holding the camera yourself.) One of the things I’m practicing is to think of something or someone I like, or try to feel a moment of compassion, sweetness, or whimsy right before the shutter goes off.
This is strangely meditative, and good practice. They say if you force yourself to smile you will make yourself happy, eventually. And I find these moments where I make myself concentrate on something good in my life (for the purpose of taking a photo!) have become one of the more enjoyable parts.
So there you go. Blue lashes, and more about the artificiality of self-portraiture photography. And before anyone asks, and I know someone will: that glorious pendant was made by Kythryne of Wyrding Studios after she read the Jokka novels. It is my Roika pendant, and it is one of my favorite pieces of jewelry.