A tossed-off comment from my mother several years ago, on the day my high school senior portrait was delivered to our home, still echoes when someone points a camera toward me.
I'd liked my senior photo and had ordered an 8-by-10. I figured it could be displayed on the back of our piano, alongside a photo of the same size that had been taken of my sister when she was that age.
After taking her first look at the new portrait, my mother asked why I had ordered “such a big one.” I pointed out its dimensions were identical to the one of my older sister.
“But the photo of Tris is such a nice one,” she said. “That's why we ordered it in that size.”
Oof. I took another look at my photo, still in its studio folder. I didn't see anything terribly wrong with my appearance and was taken aback by her reaction. Hair? Combed. Simple, round-necked sweater? Yes! Requisite necklace with a single, drop gemstone on it? Indeed.
But this is where the portraits of my sister and I parted: In the genetic shuffling of the deck, Tris had been given a broad smile, enhanced by a truly photogenic set of pearly whites, perhaps from our Polish side.
I, on the other hand, had inherited a small mouth with too many teeth to fit in nicely. Not to point any fingers, but my dental units sure looked a lot like those behind Mom's English American lips.
I wore braces in high school. For my senior portrait, I had insisted on grinning widely, refusing to hide the metal that, by that time, had been an accessory for nearly two years.
I had figured it would be somewhat dishonest to pose with a tightly closed smile.
Ever since that little interaction with my mom, and even after all of these years without braces on my teeth, I have been on guard when a photographer nears my zone. While Tris loved cameras and they loved her, the same could not be said for me. I cannot relax and enjoy the moment. My body and face are tense; I want to escape. And it shows.
Unless, that is, the person holding the camera is someone I love. Shortly before I got married, my best friend's mother, a woman I adored, took a snapshot of her daughter and me, arms wrapped around each other at the waist, grinning for posterity. I don't think I've ever looked happier. I realized then that the trick to getting me to give a genuine smile is to make sure I'm at ease with the shooter and with anyone who might be sharing the frame with me.
This week, when I needed to update my photograph for work, a mild panic set in. Our photo department comprises some very nice and talented people, but I am just not able to fully relax with them. What to do?
My sweet, patient husband was enlisted for the job. We found some time on Sunday afternoon, and within just a couple of minutes, we were done. I liked the end result because I can detect the love that's reflected in my eyes. A head shot has been cropped from one of the photos Gil took. It's going to appear with this column until I get up the nerve for another portrait.
If you like it, that's great. If not, have no fear: I promise not to order an 8-by-10 for the back of your piano.
CAROL CORMACI is the managing editor. Email her at email@example.com.