Monday, March 08, 2010

Are you scared of your face?

On the surface, this seems like an outrageous statement. And yet, my experience as a portrait photographer is leading me to believe most people are to some extent.



Our faces are our ambassadors to the world. They represent us. They express our interests and our disapprovals. They are the visible exterior of how others see us.

And yet, the moment a camera is placed in front of us, most will feel a knot of fear about what it might capture or reveal.

Over and over again, I hear statements like, "You'll have your work cut out with me; I'm just not photogenic. He (or she) is. He (or she) always looks good in photos. It's me who always makes them look bad! Ha, ha!"

Everyone seems to thing that everyone else looks good in photos, but not them. But then the reasons are perhaps not so surprising.

Part of it is the fact we're used to seeing ourselves in the mirror, with our faces in reverse, so when we see them the right way round, they look a bit odd to us. Very, very few of us have perfectly symmetrical faces.

We're also used to seeing our faces straight on, not in profile, so our noses, brows and chins look like they stick out much further than we expect them to.

And of course, for most of us, the last decent photo we had taken of us was 20 years ago, when we looked so much younger and smoother skinned, and in many cases, slimmer too.

The upshot of all this is when we see a photo of ourselves, we usually end up thinking, "who's that funny big nosed, fat, old git who looks a bit like my mother/father?" And when everyone else says, "but it looks just like you!" we're horrified.

These photos don’t seem to look anything like the person we know from the inside. And it only takes one or 2 bad snapshots (or ID card photos) for us to not want to have to deal with the whole range of emotions looking at our faces stir up.

So we prefer to ignore our faces and pretend they don’t really exist. Here they are, on view to absolutely everyone, except us.

The rest of the world deals with our face on a daily basis, but we chose to ignore it.

Very few people embrace their faces, enjoy them or are at peace with them.

And I believe these glamour photo packages most portrait photographers offer - where people are made up by make-up artists and hairdressers first - only make the whole thing worse

We need to stop comparing ourselves to some impossibly smooth skinned youth and embrace our lines, textures and all the aspects that make us uniquely us.

We need to stop worshipping the culture of plastic beauty and celebrate the life lived.

I think I’m beginning to discover my mission as a portrait photographer is to help people stop being scared of their own faces.

Meanwhile, I have to say that photo at the beginning of the post doesn’t represent me at all. It was taken in the mirror, and is therefore how I see myself, but not as others see me.

The rest of the world sees me like this



which is far scarier…

53 comments:

mapstew said...

So true my friend, and others always see us completely different to what we see in our mirrors. Thank fuck! Though the very, very odd time I catch a glimpse of something good! :¬)

As do you I think! :¬)

Whitney Lee said...

I love this. You are so right. If we could just accept the way we look instead of pretending like the person in the picture isn't us how much happier we would be...

I think it's fantastic that you've found your mission as a portrait photographer. There is beauty in everyone and everything. What a great deal to be able to help others see this beauty in themselves.

Anna said...

very true.
i can make some scary faces and i sometimes see those photos of myself, and i think, 'wow, i did not know my face could contort that way.. how crazy!'

your mission is wonderful, i hope it happens.. if only for a few faces! [but hopefully the effect is lasting for many!]

i also dislike watching myself speak. i haven't pinned any reason to it.

Helen said...

Hey Bearded One - we are always our own worst critic.

I can remember feeling quite overwhelmed when I realised that Nev completely loved me for who and what I am.

I mean, I knew I loved him like that, but to acknowledge that he felt the same way about me, seemed...well, I don't know, inconceivable.

Why do we put such limitations on ourselves?.........
Good luck with your mission - just one person can make a difference for other people.

The Pollinatrix said...

Thank you for bringing a giggle to my face.

starrlife said...

Dead on there... scarily so. I suppose it's a bit like hearing your own voice on tape. Arghh. And yet I've always had a longing to be videotaped without knowing and thus to see myself revealed.
Perhaps there is something to that soul thievery that native americans accused the white photographers of when first confronted with photos?

savannah said...

it's funny and scary when i look at myself and realize, i'm 60! when did that happen???? xoxoxo

Gillian said...

capturing people's personality is not an easy task. You clearly have the knack for it.

LegalMist said...

So true! And a great post about the need for self-acceptance, wrinkles and noses and all.

Star Child said...

The first photo is scarier...

;-)

I tend to take a good photo, facially. But I do still get a knot of....well, not fear, but I suppose apprehension as to how the photo will turn out.

I have many faults with my looks, but can still see the BIG picture, and see that I am actually good looking.

If I win the lottery I will get my teeth fixed, though. So I do tend to smile with a closed mouth in planned photo's.

Nice blog mate.

Long dark hair, blue eyes said...

You have really hit on something there! I agree with you and am happy to acknowledge that I am quietly terrified of my face

V said...

Yes, indeed!

Even if we are accepting of our bodies and how we look, I can only imagine how wonderful it would be to have an image of myself that I actually liked, and was still me, still real. Even just one photo to make a person see the beauty, or depth or character that others see would be hugely empowering.

I've often thought about the mirror image thing, but also that there are so many parts of our bodies that we can never actually see - like behind our own ears, our shoulder blades, under of chins - that are accessible to the rest of the world and not the owner of the body.

How do you help them to get past that 'knot of fear' and just be them?

Pat said...

That hit home but it is hard when one looked quite good when young and even had the skill of retouchers to improve the effect and now - on occasion is snapped - warts and all and with no retouching

Fat Lazy Guy said...

I'm not so much scared of my face as I am of my smile. When posing for photos and smiling, it feels so unnatural. Like I have to paste it on. If I try and smile how I like smiling, it doesn't look like I'm smiling at all, apparently.

A Good Moroccan said...

A little scary !

Stacia said...

Maybe that's why total strangers feel the need to tell me that I look like Susan Sarandon and I fail to see it.

Helping people to see their uniqueness and beauty is noble work indeed.

Claire said...

Ah, so very true! Portrait photog must be difficult indeed, but when an artist can capture a moment...I have one such photo of my father. He had small, intense black eyes that could dismiss the entirety of your being with one raw look. A brother-in-law practicing with the camera caught it...it gives me the shivers every time I see it.

C in DC said...

You hit the nail on the head with "These photos don’t seem to look anything like the person we know from the inside." I don't mind having my face photographed so much, but I hate anything that shows the rest of me. :-)

Katie Roberts said...

thanks Kim, you made me laugh :D

Eryl Shields said...

There was a time I absolutely hated seeing photographs of myself, I was always very adept at arranging my face for the mirror so photographs could come as a nasty shock. But as time has gone on I've got used to the old bat and use photographs to keep me up to date with the degeneration, thus keeping any grim surprises to a minimum.

Someday..... said...

I actually like my face. I recently posted several pics of myself - profile, an eye, my mouth...and that is one of the few parts of my body I don't often complain about....
Sure - I'd like fewer brow lines, crow's feet or laugh lines...but I LIKE my face.

Charlie said...

I think the most interesting thing about faces are the eyes and what they are saying about the person behind them.

1+2+2=5, 1+2+3=6: 56 said...

I've also been self conscious about my nose saying it resembled Putin in profile. But I read something interesting which affirms something that I think we all know on a subconscious level. That being that a photo could capture the real us and not just the person we are trying to show ourselves as.

Here is what I read http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/33796525/

Hindsfeet said...

Love it, and good timing, Kim...was noticing the other day that my 38 years are definitely beginning to show...a little around the eyes, a gray hair here and there.......

"Celebrate the life lived"

Thanks for the perspective...

Midnitefyrfly said...

When I didn't like the person on the inside I could never find acceptance in photographs of me. Even in the most planned, angled, perfect lighting pictures. Now that I like what is on the inside, I see reflections of my character in my photographs and I love the imperfections.

hope said...

Sigh.

You're right, of course. Happens every time I look in the mirror with the eyes of a 16 year old, only to discover the face is past 50. Ironically, I'm not a vain person. Weird.

And yet, people always tell me I look younger than my age. You'd think that would be enough to make me smile for the camera. Geez, I wish you were closer. You'd make me brave enough to try.

Okay, my verification word is "lying is". Funny.

Scotsman said...

I thought I saw Father Jack with a camera in that first image, not the best of compliments but it did take me back to the days when Father Ted was on TV so really its good. As for myself I am that big nosed git that you described hence the reason I try to stay behind the camera as often as humanly possible.

Suz said...

I agree. The problem with pictures of me is that they look just like me. Darn!

asmita said...

I agree with your observation that we are so used to seeing ourselves in the mirror that when we see the exact reflection we are never happy.
Btw, have nominated you for an award. Please check my blog. Congratulations! :)

Mary Witzl said...

Hahaha! I didn't use to be afraid of my face, but I've been getting a little scared of it lately; it doesn't look right in the morning. But you know how vain I am after all those shots.

I still like my alien shot, though. That one is ME.

Kim Ayres said...

Mapstew - as you can see - that pic of me was on a good day...

Whitney Lee - without acceptence of who we are, contentment will always be out of our grasp

Anna - our voices always sound very different when we hear them back, because when we talk, the sound resonates in our skull, so we hear it differently. Recordings always sound falt, tinny and 2 dimensional

Helen - I'm constantly trying to convince my wife I find her beautiful - I light up every time I look at her. She, however, refuses to believe it. Or if she accepts that I believe what I'm saying, then it must be because I'm insane, and so she can legitimately ignore me

Pollinatrix - you're welcome :)

Starrlife - my voice sounds flat and 2 dimensional to me, which makes it even more surprising when each time I do an audio blog, people rave about my voice. The soul thievery thing is something I might write a blog post about, as it's been on my mind a lot lately with the way people react when I ask to take their photo

Savannah - I would love to photograph your face and see all the subtleties and nuances in the life lived through it :)

Gillian - it helps if you like people :)

Legalmist - so when do we get to see a photo of you then?

Star Child - I do more dental work in terms of digital cosmetic tweeks than any other kind

Long Dark Hair - Take the time to explore it; take loads of photos of it; pull lots of faces. Sooner or later you begin to become familiar and comfortable with your own face - it's a liberation, try it :)

V - according to your profile, you're in the UK, so at some point we'll have to arrange to get that photo of you :)

Pat - but you are still extraordinarily beautiful. I love the photos of us when we met last year, but I'd really love to take some photos of you now - especially with all your modelling experience :)

Kim Ayres said...

FLG - when I'd lost most of the weight, I found it quite fascinating looking at this thinner, different face to the one I'd known for so many years. How has that affected you with such a dramatic change?

Good Moroccan - mine or yours?

Stacia - well I can't comment on the Susan Sarandon thing, as on your blog you've carefully ensured your camera is obscuring most of your face. But the little that is revealed looks good :)

Claire - you can sometimes be lucky and capture an "unguarded" moment, but to consistently take good portrait photographs, you need to build a relationship with the person so they being to relax and trust you. Then they have less reason to feel guarded and the results are much better :)

C in DC - but you're looking at your body in the wrong way. If I remember rightly you became a mother a year or 2 ago - so now you have a body that was capable of growing life itself - that body of yours is miraculous and amazing - far greater and more powerful than some untested 20 something

Katie - :)

Eryl - I'm glad you got over it enough to become one of my favourite models :) In fact I'll be needing to call on that wonderful face of yours for a pic for my exhibtion, so expect a phone call soon :)

Charlie - eyes are the most expressive part of the face, for sure, but it's also great to see them in combination with the lines, shadows and textures of the rest of the face :)

56 - I took a look at that article and what I got out of it was quite the opposite - that we can manipulate our image for the photos, and other people will think they see the real us

Hindsfeet - the fae of a 38 year old is so much more interesting than the face of an 18 year old :)

Midnitefyrfly - you're right - until we are content with ourselves on the inside, we will never be content with ourselves on the outside :)

Hope - have you started clubbing together with your neighbours yet to fly me out for photo sessions?

Scotsman - you need to come round to the other side of the camera -it's therapy, eventually :)

Suz - no problem there then :)

Asmita - thank you :)

Mary - We'll sort out more shots of you when you get back to Scotland :)

Tiffin said...

I am one of those who hates having my picture taken. Yep, I freeze or get all unnatural. So I'm always the one holding the camera.

Restaurant Gal said...

Some days the photos make me look younger; other days I cringe at how "old" I look in another photo. Then there's the looking-in-the-mirror-while-driving test to see how many new lines appear in natural daylight! Isn't it ridiculous how we sometimes think? Good post.

Mimi and Tilly said...

You've opened up a whole can of worms for me with this post! I have the world's biggest dimples (officially... they've been measured), and when I smile my face disappears and cheeks appear with dimples lodged in the middle. When I was about 5 it was cute as anything but as I'm now 41, it pains me that I look as if I should be wearing plaits and ribbons...

minortragedy said...

i love love LOVE this! yes it's true... i found myself nodding along with this entry, having recognized these elements of fear as my very own... thank you for serving such a positive mission! :) what a wonderful thing you are doing!

JohnB said...

For years I used to puzzle over why we saw ourselves reversed left-to-right in a mirror but not upside-down too.

In case you are wondering, I know the answer now (at least I think I do) - It's because our eyes are aligned horizontally. If they were aligned one above each other we would see things upside-down in the mirror, or would we?

But doesn't our brain automatically invert the image it sees on the back of our eyes anyway? So in that case, wouldn't that be a much better arrangement? ...

Ahhh - Wishing I'd never started this comment. ;-)

hope said...

I was going to try the Grant angle and see if I could get your Scottish folks in on the Scottish History Festival in March.

Damn economy...they canceled it!

I'll put a jar up immediately and we'll start a fund. You should still be taking photos in 5 years,right? ;)

mapstew said...

Kim, I had to go searching through a lot of old choccie boxes, but I found a very similar image of me from the 80's! Have a look over at my gaff when you get the chance! :¬)

litzi said...

Through a Glass Darkly is an abbreviated form of a much-quoted phrase from 1 Corinthians 13 in the Christian New Testament. It means clarity on a situation that is often obscured, like looking at something in a darkened mirror.

Now we see through a glass, darkly; then we shall see face to face.

Kim Ayres said...

Tiffin - and yet, if someone else tells you they are embarrassed by their own face, you can't imagine why - but this is how you seem to others

RG - I bet there are some great faces to photograph in the bars and restaurants you work in

Mimi & Tilly - get those dimples out into the open - post close up photos of them on your blog - face your fears. Portrait Therapy!

Minortragedy - isn't it amazing how everyone thinks other faces are fine, it's just their own that's appalling

JohnB - but if it was upside down AND back to front, then it would just be the same but rotated 180 degrees - and that would be really odd...

Hope - I intend to be, but if not you can use your jar fund for something else, I'm sure :)

Mapstew - great photos :)

Litzi - I've heard the phrase before, but never really knew what it meant - thank you :)

Carole said...

You are weird. Good weird, but weird none-the-less.

Kim Ayres said...

It's always been why you love me :)

Ron Tipton said...

Right on the mark Kim! I like to take pictures, especially of people's faces. But I almost always get "Oh no! I don't take a good picture!" How boring. You are what you are. Why so many people are unhappy with the way they look is an answer that I don't have. Like you, I've never had a problem with the way I look. Perhaps other people don't like the way I look but I, myself, have never had that problem. In fact, I like the way I look as I'm sure you like the way you look. It could be a lot worse. I'm thankful it is not.

Falak said...

This post is so true!
The worst part about a photograph for me is when I can't make up my mind about how to smile. Do I give a wide, toothy smile? Or something that just requires the corners of my lips to tilt upwards? By the time I make up my mind the picture is taken and my bizzare expression is captured for posterity.

Kim Ayres said...

If someone's taking your photo, let them worry about how you look. A snapshot is only a snapshot, and a portrait photographer will be looking to create something special or interesting

The Pollinatrix said...

This is oddly liberating, Kim - that when I'm being photographed my face is not my business, but the photographer's. I like it. Somehow I get the idea this could be applied to other things in life, as well.

Kim Ayres said...

Pollinatrix - I think part of our fear of cameras is the idea that someone snaping away might inadvertantly capture an inner part of ourselves we didn't want to reveal - or that somehow that image of us in the middle of a yawn or blink, is going to be seen as truly representative of who we are.

And yet neither is true.

For someone who kows you, a snapshot is just a brief recognition thing - like a passport photo - it's ID, not essence.

It's much harder to get a real sense of someone from a photograph - imagine you wanted to give a sense of smell from a picture. You can't. All you can do is try and create a mood that reminds people of a smell they might already know, but you cannot transmit that smell via a photo.

Portrait photography (as opposed to snaps) is about setting up conditions to create a mood around a facial likeness in order to trick people into thinking they are seeing something revealing.

With the right expression, clothes, make up and setting, I can make you lok like a powerful business woman, or a bag lady; giggling or anguished.

It's all smoke and mirrors, as the saying goes :)

Hayaah said...

LOL!!!

I loved this!

The lines that hit deep, meaningfuilly were, ''Very few people embrace their faces, enjoy them or are at peace with them.''

Kim Ayres said...

Hayaah - and yet it's true - why should we not embrace our face? What do we ever have to gain by being fearful or ashamed of it?

Hayaah said...

Indeed nothing but self inflicted misery...

Jessica Harper said...

How can you do that with your mouth on both sides! Amazing!" My mouth only works in that manor on the one sdie :-( gutted I want to be able to do it both sides, then i could take a photograph like you! :-)

Kim Ayres said...

Jessica - I just flipped the first image. So the top one is my reflection in the mirror - so how I see myself - so the bottom one is the same image reversed, so is how others see me :)