The blog of photographer Kim Ayres

Guest Post - Mary Smith

Mary Smith is a warm, friendly and intelligent author, with an ability to translate her keen observational eye into rich worlds we can dive into.

Her experiences in Pakistan and Afghanistan make her seem fearless... until it comes to getting her photo taken.

There's a spectrum of reactions people have when a camera is pointed at them. At one end are those who instantly fall into role-play and fun and at the other are those who would rather have root canal work with no anaesthetic than sit through a portrait session. It has to be said that in the bell-curve of distribution, Mary fell into the more extreme edge of the latter.

Unfortunately, this has meant most photos do not show Mary with the twinkle in her eye you quickly come to recognise when you meet her in person. Instead, they show her looking tense and clearly not wanting to be there, which is no good for publicity images.

We've discussed the idea of me doing her portrait on and off over several years. A couple of weeks ago, she finally relented and I called round with camera and lights slung over my shoulder.

It's a while since I had a guest post on this blog, but with a writer of her calibre (not to mention it shows me in quite a good light), I couldn't resist the chance to let her tell of her experience on the other side of my camera.

So here is Mary's account of our session, and below that you can find the links to her own sites, which I would highly recommend visiting and adding to your blog lists.

Please feel free to leave comments too.


Fighting Photo Phobia

I hate having my photo taken. I can hear an instant chorus of ‘so do I’ but I’m sure no one hates it as much as I do. It’s almost a phobia.

A camera is pointed in my direction and in an instant every muscle in my face freezes, my shoulders lift up to my ears, my chin sticks out and all the wrinkles in my neck are accentuated a hundred-fold.

The profile pics I’ve been using on Facebook, Twitter and blogs were taken by a photographer friend. I was grateful for the time and effort she took and I picked (out of many) the ones that seemed to me to be ‘not too bad’. These were taken some years ago and I knew I really ought to update them.

This was taken several years ago – time for an update

I was thinking it was time to bite the bullet and have a professional photo taken which I could use on as my social media profile and for book covers and press releases and all the rest of the things authors and bloggers need to do which seem to require a mug shot. At a party I bumped into portrait photographer Kim Ayres. Fate!?

We had a long chat. I had several glasses of wine and agreed we should meet – just to discuss the idea. Kim emailed me next day, we met and he spent time explaining why so many of us don’t like seeing photos of ourselves. It’s because we only see ourselves in the mirror so we always see a reverse image of ourselves. Other people don’t shriek in horror at our pic because they are used to seeing us that way.

I understood what he was telling me but it didn’t totally convince me. If I think I look ghastly in my photos, does that mean everyone thinks I look ghastly in real life? And does that mean that only my hairdresser knows how I see myself? Anyway, I somehow found myself agreeing to have him take my photo.

Kim suggested I pretend I have a twin sister about to have her photo taken and think what advice I’d give her. ‘Eyebrows,’ I told my mythical twin. ‘You need to get your eyebrows done.’ Off I went – no manicure, no plumping up of lips, no facial – just the eyebrows. Funny, isn’t it what can make us feel better about ourselves?

He emailed to suggest I might have a drink to help me relax as long as I promised him I didn’t become either an aggressive or a maudlin drunk. I hadn’t actually contemplated getting drunk but when he arrived with all his photographic paraphernalia it suddenly seemed like a good idea. While he had a cup of tea I mixed a gin and martini cocktail – well, I didn’t bother with the lemon peel or olive or ice or shaking it – just a good slug of each in a glass. I don’t think it helped.

What did help was chatting, listening to Kim explain all sorts of things about photography (most of which went right over my head) and telling me we would have fun and, no matter how long it took, we would get a good photo – a photo I was happy with. Thinking back, it was like he was making soothing noises to a frightened horse!

He’d asked what I wanted people to see when they looked at the photo. I said I wanted to come across as warm and friendly, someone people would want to get to know. As he took each shot it appeared on a tablet so we could see it. To start with, all I could see was ‘meah’ but something happened during the process and I began to react differently to the photos. I began to see how things changed with a tilt of the shoulder here, a movement forward there, laughing at something just before the shutter clicked, a ‘think of something naughty’, stick out your tongue. Best of all, Kim never gave that terrifying command I’ve heard from photographers – friends, professionals, family – ‘Smile!’ As someone who was a smoker, who drinks black coffee and red wine and has some unflattering NHS dental work, I’m very self-conscious about my teeth – as well as all the other major defects I immediately notice in my photos.

Kim was so relaxed, not rushing things, actually making me feel if took ten hours it would be fine with him and it did actually become fun. It took a couple of hours though, but eventually I looked at a photo and didn’t cringe. I was drawn to my eyes, which looked quite twinkly, rather than my wrinkly neck. I saw my neck, but it didn’t matter, because I realised people would look at the eyes first. Another one made me say: ‘Oh, my shoulder has moved up spoiling the line.’ Then, I realised I was looking at the whole image with a different eye. Kim was grinning.

The new profile pic

When the shoot was over I was both exhilarated and exhausted. I wanted to tell Kim to come back and we could do it again, maybe in the blue dress this time. I wanted to continue having fun because I suspected the euphoria would wear off and next time someone points a camera at me I’d freeze like before. When I need a new profile photo, I’ll definitely be calling Kim again.

Check out Kim’s website here. I’ve been looking at the amazing, exciting images on his website and thinking of all kinds of photographic possibilities then I remember I’m 63, a writer and blogger, an introvert rather than an extrovert, warm and friendly, hoping people would want to know me as I am.

I can even be in black and white or colour


Mary Smith is a writer, freelance journalist and poet based in Dumfries & Galloway, Scotland.

She worked in Pakistan and Afghanistan for ten years, where she established a mother and child care programme providing skills and knowledge to women health volunteers. Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni: Real Stories of Afghan Women is a memoir about her work in Afghanistan and the country also provides the setting for her novel No More Mulberries.

Her first poetry collection is Thousands Pass Here Every Day and her latest publication is a collection of short stories, Donkey Boy & Other Stories.

Mary has worked in collaboration with photographer Allan Devlin on two local history books: Dumfries Through Time and Castle Douglas Through Time. She is now working on Secret Dumfries with photographer Keith Kirk, to be published in summer 2018.

My Dad’s a Goldfish:



Mary Smith said...

I love the introduction, Kim. I still can't over the difference in my eyes in the old photo and the one you took.And I'm sure it isn't down to the gin!

Kim Ayres said...

We got to the good photos at least a couple of hours after the gin, Mary, so the relaxed smile couldn't have been alcohol induced :)
Many thanks once again for your warm words, and allowing us to see what it's like on the other side of the camera :)

daisyfae said...

As one who isn't good with either photography or writing (or sitting for a photo), this is a beautiful combination! Thank you both for sharing the experience!

That twinkle. i noticed nothing else.

Kim Ayres said...

Daisyfae - I have to disagree with your statement about writing - your blog is very well written and always an enjoyable read :)

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