The Physical Self-Image And The Mirror Problem
I’ve rarely liked pictures of myself. I don’t exactly know why; I’m definitely not ugly or anything. I suspect it has something to do with the psychological twist we all have: we prefer our own mirror image to that of photographs of ourselves. My mirror image is more good-looking, more familiar. I seem to tilt my head to the angle I think I look best at when I look in a mirror. I can never get that look in a photograph unless I take a picture of my reflection.
I don’t like our wedding photos, and I think I should. We weren’t rushed or anything to take them, but we got married in August. The sun in very bright in August, and we took most of our pictures outside, in the temple grounds in Albuquerque. We were squinting as it was, but apparently the light wasn’t at the right angle; the photographer took our her shiny disc and pointed it right in our faces. Even when she did the “close your eyes until right before I snap the shutter” trick, we’re still extremely squinty in our pictures.
Some of it has to do with my natural smile. When I grin fully without any thought of appearance, there’s an awful lot of gums showing and half of my teeth hidden. When I concentrate on my smile, it often looks forced. It looks contrived, like I’m upset and someone tells me to quit crying and behave for the camera.
For five years of my life, I had braces. I got them on before I was a freshman in high school and had them taken off right before high school graduation. I wasn’t teased for them and didn’t mind the look of them, but I thought I personally looked better when I smiled with my lips closed. Of course, my mom has never liked the close-lipped smile. “Smile wider! You look so sad!” she’d say.
Sad? No. Melancholy was the look I was going for. Contemplative, thoughtful. Wry. I like all those adjectives, but people don’t usually think of those words when they think of Kate. They think cheerful, upbeat, bouncy. Radiant, even. And they, even my mom, expect that in my pictures.
There was always someone behind the camera who had an opinion. Until I took a picture of myself on the webcam and posted it here. And I realized that for the first time, I don’t have to rely on my camera and a mirror to ensure I get the self-portrait I want. I’m not fond of Myspace-looking pictures and have never taken one of myself in the bathroom mirror. For the first time can I point a palm-sized camera at myself and see on the screen what I look like before I click the button. And the camera is highly adjustable; its only restraints are the length of my arm and the length of the wire to its plug. The laptop is wireless; half an hour ago, I just took eleven self-portraits under the trees. And eight of them are perfect.
That’s what I’ve been doing for the past five mornings. I have five sets of self-portraits.