NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

December 20, 2012

Picture this

As You See Us
Stuart Deane

---- — How does one choose a head shot for a guest column?

A jacket and tie for respectability? An open-collared shirt for informality? A sweater and beret for rakishness?

And how about one’s facial expression?

Does a stern look imply righteousness, profoundness, truth? Does a smile imply warmth and friendliness? Does peering over one’s glasses suggest wisdom?

And what if a particular columnist has a variety of styles/topics/opinions?

Perhaps head shots should be taken at a boardwalk photo booth. You know the kind — the one that spits out a strip of photos with a variety of expressions. Then the writer could choose a particular pose to match the tone of a particular column.

This would be something like those pain charts at the doctor’s office, the ones that use circular face logos that progress from the happy smile to the grimace.

“How are you feeling today, Mr. Columnist? One to 10?”

“I’m pretty grumpy today. You’d better use Old Number Nine.”

Or perhaps just one neutral shot should be used to establish “brand identification.”

“Ah, yes. Another one by Jones.”

All this ignores the fact that no one else sees us as we do ourselves — literally and figuratively. Literally, we see ourselves in the mirror in a reverse image, while others see us as we actually are. Maybe that’s why we often don’t like our own pictures. Figuratively, who we are on the inside is not always what people see from the outside, sort of like that great classic from the Platters, “The Great Pretender”: “I seem to be what I’m not, you see … ”

Also, others spend less time looking at us than we do looking in the mirror at ourselves as we try to make sure that we look like we should for the day. “I can’t go out looking like this. I just can’t get my hair to look right.” Do others really notice when we’re having a bad hair day? When what we’re wearing doesn’t match the mood we’re in? Or is it just us, our own worst critics?

Perhaps with the ever-increasing speed of technological advances, the writer could have access to something like that face recognition software developed by Homeland Security, or that software that detectives use to predict what people might look like in a disguise, the kind that helped track down Whitey Bulger. Or that scientists use to predict what an individual might look like over time, similar to the “Picture of Dorian Gray” concept. After all, some columnists have written for years. The software could automatically add crow’s feet and wrinkles as time winds on.

With such software the writer could also tweak the photo depending upon mood or topic or desired image for that particular piece. “I’m serious today. I’d better squint those eyes a little bit, lean toward the camera, and crank down that grin.”

So, what about me?

Way back in the ’80s and ’90s, I wrote columns for both The Daily News in town and the Beverly Times in the circulation area of Masconomet Regional, where I was a teacher. My head shot was rather sober, in jacket and tie, no smile. It was taken by a Daily News photographer, on film, so I never saw it before publication. Yet, I kind of liked it.

Then, for some reason that I no longer remember, I switched to a sweater and open-collared shirt with a smile for ensuing columns. It was a formal pose, taken by my younger son, a photo major at Mass College of Art, for a framed collage of head shots from his brother’s wedding reception as a wedding gift. Perhaps I wanted to honor my son’s work. I liked that one, too. The first pose suggested seriousness, the second, humor. But I continued to write in both styles under both head shots. In a way, as I think back, the two poses should have been used to match the column message.

Anyway, for a current head shot as I resume writing for The Daily News after the 20-year hiatus, I originally thought of using my new passport photo, which, under current regulations, forbids a smile. It’s me, and I like it, but is it appropriate for a broad spectrum of columns, including humor?

The OpEd editor offered a new shot, taken by photography editor Bryan Eaton. I got to choose from multiple digital images. I hope this one works, though it is now frozen in time.

If a picture is indeed worth a thousand words, this head shot far outweighs the word count of the column itself. I’d better get this right.

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Stuart Deane lives in Newburyport.