The Merits of Serial Photography

February 6, 2007 at 11:08 am | Posted in Job, Photography | 10 Comments

Some people enjoy having their picture taken, I don’t. 15 years ago of course, as an average, teenage angst ridden, camera-shy adolescent I HATED it – to my very regret these days, because there are hardly any pics around of me as a teenager. That’s why I now appreciate every picture that someone secretly takes of me. And if it is not done secretly, you can be sure that it is going to come out awfully.

Although I know that posing for the camera is learnable and eventually a cultural thing – all Americans that I’ve ever met had their camera smile – I’m not very good at switching on a smile and flashing my pearly whites at the camera. But living in post-modern late capitalism means that you have to have your picture taken regularly, to satisfy particular administrative demands such as having a passport, signing up for a travel reduction card, registering for a seminar, etc.

The second most annoying thing – immediately after getting passport pictures that meet post 9/11 biometric standards (a nuisance) – are pictures for a letter of application.

Family PortraitFirst off, these pictures can only be a lie – they are supposed to be some kind of self-advertisement, but how can you squeeze the entire message of being you into just one picture? In the heyday of portrait photography (meaning – rightly after portrait paintings had their heyday, let’s says around 1880), it might have been that a photo was able to capture the essence of YOU – but all that existed of you as a public being was your position in society anyway. The pater familias posed as pater familias, the mother of four as mother of four. Period. This pattern of visual representation is certainly alive to date (as the picture on the right – source: Wikipedia – indicates), but it can hardly show more than an aspect of who you are. Niklas Luhman would agree with me that, in an ever more complex social system in which we take on various roles at a time, it is next to impossible to communicate the ramifications of what YOU are about in just one single picture. Also, which employer would like to hire someone one-dimensional?

I’ve hence resorted to serial photography. I admit, the final result is some kind of compromise. While I would have liked to come up with something like this:

Serial Photography

I am now going to go for that:

Serial Photography

These four pictures can shed light on only two sides of me, and both of them are represented in a fairly exaggerated fashion, with the intention to increase the contrast between the professional and the private self (and to thus suggest that the real person inhabits the ground some where in the middle).

But is the result any closer to the “truth”? Hardly. I am looking forward to the day that photographs will no longer be required in job applications – attaching one to an application in the the US might even lead to the conclusion that you wanted to use your looks, rather than your skills and qualifications, to endorse your application. And if you asked for a photograph as an employer, you might even face a discrimination lawsuit. There are some good sides to political correctness, let’s not forget that!


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  1. Hi Lana
    Enjoyed your take on this. You are absolutely right that pictures taken secretely are the best. Once you get conscious of the camera, 99% of the times picture doesnt look good, atleast to the person who gets clicked. I have often wondered why my pictures look so different from each other. Ofcourse there are various variables such as light falling on your face from right/left, pictures taken with flash, pictures taken from above and below, right expression on the face and so on..But, I am not sure what’s the scientific reason for that..probably I need some education on that..
    And ya you are right that nowadays we cant get away from the business of having our pictures..and I really hate that passport size pictures..those are the most awful.

  2. Hi Lallopallo, nice to hear from you again! I suppose one of the reasons is that we cannot freeze our facial expression – when my boyfriend took these photos of me, we had the problem that there was always a little time delay (digital camera…) and it just never clicked when I had the feeling of looking good. But SUSTAINING the moment of looking good (and natural) just seems impossible (to me, that is).

  3. I actually don’t like my picture taken, But as a photographer I always keep taking pictures of others!

  4. Hello Lana
    Yes, nice to hear from you too. Yes, it is impossible to freeze expressions. Over the years, I have discovered that best picture comes when strong natural light is coming from right ( not from front ,behind or flash) while you are in a room, you are not standing more than 2-3 meters from the camera, your eyes and camera are at the same height and lastly you have normal smile on your face. Worst pictures come when I use flash from a small distance or have a sullen expression on my face and also in the daylight. Tell me if Iam wrong..also, I might be using ordinary digital not very sure of more expensive and good ones..
    Suresh might want to throw some light on this ..reasons for seeing different effects for the same face..I guess it also depends upon each person’s face structure and features..some people are more photogenic.
    The problem is no matter how much you hate your pictures, you have to accept that they show the reality to a large extent. A mirror always show the mirror pictures are more close to the reality..

  5. Also, forgot to add that it’s better not to look eye to eye in the camera, try looking somewhere else or even if you are looking into the camera, look from a side pose.

  6. I think I was not correct on the issue of flash. Although using flash gives bit of unnatural look in terms of light on the face, that still is the best way to have clear picture. Natural light gives clearer picture if you stand very close to the camera, but then standing very close almost always makes you look afwul. So, a distance is necessary and for that flash is the best option. Why Iam getting so finicky..:(
    I guess as with everything, I want to know the reality behind the things.
    P.S. : Jana, I have replied to your comment on my blog.

  7. Hey..Jana, forgot to add that your pictures look cool.

  8. Thanks for the compliment 🙂 Btw, two days later, we had professional pictures taken at the place where I work.. they used flash lights, but also extra lighting and reflectors… I guess that is what makes the difference… those consumer camera flashes are not goo… I’ll write more once I get the pictures…

  9. You are Welcome! Exactly. Only professional pictures , done properly, gives you the best idea. As you saw in my picture, unprofessionally done pictures are aesthetically not great.

  10. […] 8th, 2007 at 2:18 pm (Lent, Job, Food, Photography) A while ago I posted a small series of serial photos which were intended to endorse an application. The idea had been to offer a visual expression of […]

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