Cast into transports of horror at the weekend when an email arrived from Books for Keeps, for whom I've written an article. Can they have a photograph to illustrate the article, they say - of me. The only recent one involves a green, sparkly hat. Probably not quite the thing for a sensible author photo. There are no other photos, as I am generally behind the camera rather than in front of it and I loathe having my picture taken. When confronted with a camera my face seems to grow a thousand different muscles it didn't have before, and none of them want anything to do with the others. Discuss this with son, famed for years of having an ear or an elbow photographed as he fled the camera lens. "They take your soul, you know, photographs," he says. Agree, but reflect that going on his Facebook page, quite a lot of his soul must now be absent.
Anyway, I have thought uneasily over the last few months that I would probably have to provide an author photo for my book, when it eventually emerges, but managed each time the thought popped up to suppress it firmly. Now I must face it. I mutter to my husband, after seeing the email, that perhaps he needs to pick up the camera. "Um," he says, and then wisely forgets all about it. Monday arrives. "Here," I say to daughter. "We have five minutes before we have to leave for your orthodontist's appointment. Just take as many photographs of me as you can. Hopefully one of them will make me look at least human."
Daughter, also fully paid up member of the Facebook generation, picks up camera. There is a pause.
"Don't look so worried, Mum."
"Try raising an eyebrow and looking sideways. That's what I do."
I try this. There is a short and charged pause.
"No, Mum. Just.... no. Mum, it's not that hard. Just try and look.... normal."
"No, don't look above my head. Why are you looking above my head?"
I am very conscious at this point that we have only a couple of minutes before we absolutely must head off to the orthodontist. Attempt to relax. Attempt to look... normal. HOW DO I LOOK NORMAL? Want to whimper.
"No, try SMILING Mum."
Try. I really do. Daughter puts camera down and attempts to smooth my hair down. Do not feel that it is my hair that is the problem but my face is beyond smoothing. Daughter takes a series of rapid shots. We inspect them.
It is just vanity, isn't it, this horror of being photographed? I am still vain enough to want to present a half-way decent image to the world, but I do know what son means when he says photographs take your soul. It's a little chunk of yourself that you no longer have any control over, once your image is out there. I suppose I think the essential me is the one that writes and thinks; what I look like is incidental. So much harder for daughter's generation, when the pressure to have endless pictures of yourself, TAKEN by yourself, natch, seems impossible to resist. At least I can generally hide behind black and white 1930s equine photos.
Do think it sad that appropriate author photo is probably not the green sparkly hat.