Neutral expression? Mouth closed? Eyes open?
What? All at the same time?
I had to renew my passport this month, so had a session of self-portraiture, which is not something I do very often, not least because it involves finding a tripod. Passport photo requirements are quite specific:
Your photos must:Not a problem. Oh, and...
be a close-up of your full head and upper shoulders
contain no other objects or people
be in clear contrast to the background
In your photo, you must:Blimey: bang goes the idea of wearing a "V for Vendetta" mask, then. And red-eye is kind of my look. But, finally having got something suitable (or sort of suitable – it's not easy being neutral, especially not wearing my customary wraparound mirror shades), I decided to play around with the less suitable ones.
be facing forward and looking straight at the camera
have a neutral expression and your mouth closed
have your eyes open, visible and free from reflection or glare from glasses
not have hair in front of your eyes
not have a head covering (unless it’s for religious or medical reasons)
not have anything covering your face
not have any ‘red eye’
not have any shadows on your face or behind you
You can’t wear sunglasses or tinted glasses. You can wear reading glasses but your eyes must show fully through clear lenses without glare or reflections.
Thus, above we have my "Self-portrait in the fashionable tintype manner". Strange, how much older (and how much more skeptical) I look scowling for the camera than I do in the mirror... Either there's some psychological phenomenon at play here, or I must get a better camera. One that reflects my inner perception, rather than the stark reality. This is still much more like what I think I see in the mirror:
Your host, ca, 1961
Despite its defects, that school photo did get used in a passport, of sorts. Of course, passport photo requirements were less strict in those days, and the production values rather lower:
Oddly enough, I do still have exactly the same missing teeth, though I'm pretty sure they did turn up at some point between then and now. As did a lot of things that also seem to have vanished along the way: good friends, close family, even solidly familiar buildings, all have been disappearing into thin air, leaving not a wrack behind. And I can't find my bloody Kindle anywhere. This year does seem to have been particularly forgetful of some beloved public figures, though, doesn't it? I do hope David Attenborough is wrapping up warm, in these last days of 2016. If it hadn't become such a cliché, I would yet again invoke Walter Benjamin's Angel of History. But it's the right time of year to indulge in the bittersweet melancholy of remembrance, and to raise a time-honoured toast: absent friends!
Regretfully, however, I suppose I must accept that the scowly first photo is a truer reflection of reality than the smiley second. The years do pass, and our faces and demeanour change with them. Every ten years or so, this requires a new passport photo to be taken. But who knew that, 55 Christmasses later, this grizzled clown would emerge?
Ah, well. Another Christmas, another paper crown... Hey, I wonder if that counts as a head-covering worn for religious reasons? That would make for a much more interesting passport, wouldn't it? Profession? Oh, still King; on paper, anyway...
But, if you're prepared to accept 50% of my genetic material as a sort of self-portrait, then here I am looking my very best, on the beach at Lyme Regis on the afternoon of Christmas Day:
Oh, brave new world, that has such creatures in it! Though I suspect she'll never forgive me for the gift of the family nose, pretty as it is when worn by her.
So, no matter what you think of what looks back at you in the mirror each morning, or how many passports you've got through, or how many year's end celebrations you've witnessed, and despite any perfectly justified forebodings, may the coming year treat us all well!
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.Nicely put, sir, nicely put. I think you still hold on to your narrow lead in the competition for "Best Opening Sentence EVER!"; and plus ça change, eh?
Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859)