Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A Yearbook Photo is Forever

In the next week or so I have to select a photograph of myself for my college yearbook. I'm always interested in how people choose to immortalize themselves in photos--how they choose to be remembered--so I'm probably agonizing far too much about the matter.

You know, I want a photo that's something more than me mindlessly grinning at a camera--a portrait that captures my true facial expressions and personality. I want to stand out, but without looking too wacky--since I'm not "that wacky girl" in real life. I want my photo to be better than a cheap candid, but not so perfect that people will assume I'm a raging egomaniac. The background will have to be nice, but not obtrusive; the lighting and angles will have to be right; and it'll need to look good in black and white.

My favorite photo of any Vassar student, ever, is the famous one of Edna St. Vincent Millay, taken by Arnold Genthe. She poses with a magnolia tree, delicate and pensive and wood-nymphy. It is almost like a Japanese print:

Four years ago I had to go through this same shenanigans of choosing a photo for my high-school yearbook. My dad took a lot of pictures of me in a local garden, and while I doubt I was consciously thinking of this Millay photo, that's definitely the image I was going for. (In high school I romanticized melancholy. I thought all my smiles looked fake.) I ended up choosing one where I posed next to a white birch tree, looking fragile and wistful.

Four years later, I want something with a little more oomph--my mood now is more confident, striding toward my future with determination. So my photo needs to capture that feeling--and needs to work as an aesthetic object, but, as I said, it can't work too well, or people will start to call me pretentious. This is a situation where my perfectionistic tendencies plus my sense of aesthetics plus my respect for posterity--for printed images that will endure--combine to make something difficult when it should be easy.

Photo from Wikipedia.

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