I’m not sexist. I know I’m not because I keep telling myself i’m not sexist. Sexism is terrible, destructive, and ignorant and I’ve never wanted to be any of those things, but dog-gone there are times . . . .
This scenario is imaginary but not beyond belief: One of my female students asks me to take her picture. We go down to the local creek and find an idyllic little spot beside the stream, the evening sunset provides us with a beautiful golden light, a slight breeze is wafting her hair over the brook, and then out of nowhere a gigantic half-ton snapping turtle raises its hoary head out of the water behind her and opens its mouth intending to decapitate the girl in one bloody gulp! I snap the picture then shout “Look out!” and the girl barely escapes with her life. . . and head. We scramble up the creek bank, call the game warden to dispatch the murderous beast, and finally think to look at the photograph. The girl peers at the screen on my camera, sees that she was nearly killed just before prom, looks at the turtle’s claws that came only inches from removing her head, and says to me, “Oh geesh. Look at my hair. It’s terrible.”
I repeat, I am not sexist. Perhaps a teenage boy would have the same reaction and would be too afraid to admit his vanity, but I do pity the plight of the poor photographer who’s assigned to take shots of teenagers. As this issue of The Source celebrates one of our town’s leading shot-snappers I wonder how many times the Wades have had to wade through the jungle of adolescent narcissism.
Okay, I know that pre and post and during adolescence is the most insecure time of most kids’ lives and that what they think of themselves depends almost entirely upon what other people think of them. Perhaps it would be better for everyone if all photographs were banned between the ages of 10 and 21.
I often take publicity photos for upcoming theatrical productions and I learned long ago that you do not show up to class with your camera and announce that we’ll be taking pictures that day. The young ladies must have at least two days notice.
True story: several years ago the State Police held one of those accident simulation days at our local high school. It was just before prom and certain students volunteered to be bloodied up so their bodies could be strewn around a wrecked car then were subjected to a mock emergency for the student body to witness. Several of my theatre students were the first to raise their hands and on the appointed day a makeup specialist met with them to apply fake cuts, scrapes and lots and lots of stage blood. The kids thought it was great. . . until the makeup lady started messing with the girls’ hair. An actual conversation heard that morning. . .
“You’re gonna do what?”
“I’ve got to mess up your hair. You’ve just been in a bad accident.”
“But why my hair?”
“Because your hair was in the wreck, too.”
“Do you have to?”
“It’s part of the simulation.”
The girl sat there with a five-inch cut puttied onto her forehead, her t-shirt ripped, and blood streaming down her neck, but she didn’t want her hair to be messed up.
I can only imagine the angst that the Wade family has endured as young ladies . . . and to be fair, perhaps a few young men . . . have viewed their senior proofs. I’ve been privy to a few of these conversations over the years as mothers and daughters have discussed which shots to purchase for their official graduation picture. Oftentimes the mother wants the bright and smiling shot (Mom and Dad paid for that dental work) while the daughter insists on choosing the sultry pout. It’s a problem of the camera lens. Mom is viewing the photos through a lens that depicts a ten-year-old girl, while the daughter is seeing the shot through a 21-year-old prism. Photographers like the Wades are stuck with the simple truth.
I’ve watched the wonderful success story of the Wade family over the years as they bring home top honors from national conferences, and I wonder if when photographers meet they also attend conferences on teenage brains.