A few years ago, I posted a recent picture of myself online. I only meant it as a placeholder until I could get a better one, but I got busy. The picture became the social media equivalent of those dusty cars that strangers write, “Wash Me” on, and one acquaintance even offered to shoot a better one for me. It was only a few weeks ago that I realized that, with my book, Designing with LibreOffice, coming out, I needed something more professional, and arranged a professional shoot with Sara Paley Photography. It turned out to be one of those surreal experiences that pop up in my life from time to time.
Because my book used pictures from the Sun Yat-Sen Garden, to draw an analogy between feng shui landscaping and typography, I wanted to get the photos of me from the same location. However, Vancouver was in the rainy season, so finding a suitable day was difficult. Once, we tried to squeeze the session in during a break in the clouds, but I forgot to tell the photographer that the Garden is next to a public park, and we wasted time waiting for each other in different places. I also found out that I now needed a permit to shoot in the Garden – and that, naturally enough, since it was a Sunday, the person who could give permission was not in the office.
Ten days later, armed with a permit for an hour, we tried again. As I had suspected, the garden was a natural place to shoot, with arches and doors and windows, even trees and rocks, to frame shots naturally. Moreover, Sara was such a thorough-going professional that I soon lost my sense of the ridiculous as I tried to follow her directions for positioning myself.
What we hadn’t counted on, though, were the people.
To start with, when people see you posing for picture after picture, they immediately assume you must be someone. As I posed for shot after shot – which is much harder psychologically than I would have expected, and, to a much less degree, hard physically as well – I was constantly being distracted by people lingering as they passed, staring to see if they should recognize me. The idea was ludicrous enough to make me want to giggle.
To make matters worse, halfway through the session, the Garden was invaded by a day camp of about sixty eight or nine year olds. No sooner would we get the shot set up than the children would troop two by two between Sara and I, staring at both of us. I would try to hold my position but the children were not rushing, and at least twice, I couldn’t.
When I couldn’t, we would line up the shot again – just in time for the kids to return the way they had come. Again, giggles were a clear and present danger.
Somehow, we persevered, and the results were satisfying, even if my first reaction was to wonder how I had grown so old, and when my cheeks had become so chubby. But the process itself appealed to my sense of the ridiculous in ways I hadn’t expected.