Saturday, January 5, 2013

Passport Photo Blues

Vanity, thy name is Pandora.

I've been putting off renewing my passport for a year now. Part of the reason I've done nothing about this is that I've had nowhere to go.

The other more pertinent reason for not getting this menial task done is the chore of getting my passport photo taken.

To say that I hate having this done is an understatement. Given the choice of root canal surgery without anaesthetic or having my passport taken I'd have to think pretty hard about it.

Photos for government documents is not something I do well. Added to this, the fact that I'm not particularly photogenic. For the most part, I don't like having my photo taken, and I prefer if I have some editorial say in things. The only exception to this, I'm quite happy to have my photo taken when I'm working out or with friends working out. For some reason I'm quite comfortable with this - probably because I'm happy when I'm exercising.

There are a couple of other reasons why I don't like having my photo taken. There was a really unpleasant incident at work in London many years ago where my work photo was attached to some pornographic material and distributed around the company. It wasn't a good time, it went up though H.R. and I've been very reticent to let people have my image without my express permission ever since - and you have no idea what the government will do with your image once they have it.

Another, small, nonsensical reason why I hate having my photo taken is that like the aboriginals, I do believe that a bit of your soul is taken when your image is snapped. Think about, there are only so many pixels in the world. We must be getting close to the critical mass with pixels. Once the pixel critical mass is reached, then people will start to disappear. I don't want to disappear just yet.

Anyway, it's time to bite the bullet. Time to get the photos done.

A couple of weeks ago I gave it a go. It was lunch time. I'd just bought my new favourite red lipstick. Being near Christmas time, the post office was busy. I brushed my hair and applied some lipstick and waited my turn in line. When I finally made it to the counter, I was ready to go back the the office. The pictures were taken, shoved in an evelope and paid for.

A lot was made of the passport office requirements.

I've had run ins with them in the past. My first adult passport there was a signature missing off the back of one of my shots - it held up everything for a few weeks.

They also have very definite demands namely:

  • 35-40mm wide and 45-50mm high
  • good quality colour on high quality paper, with no ink or marks on the image
  • plain, light-coloured background (e.g. cream, pale blue or white)
  • appropriate brightness and contrast and show your skin tones naturally
  • uniform lighting (no shadows across or behind the face), sharp focus and clear

  • They also ask of the person having the photo taken:

  • show head and top of shoulders close up, so that the face measures between 32mm and 36mm from the bottom of the chin to the crown (ie top of head without hair)
  • show your shoulders square on (not looking over shoulder)
  • show your face square on (edges of face visible)
  • show you looking straight at the camera (not tilted head)
  • be taken with a neutral expression and your mouth closed (not laughing or frowning
  • show your eyes open and clearly visible, (no hair in eyes)
  • The photograph must show you without any hat or other head covering including sunglasses. However, if you wear a head covering for religious reasons they will accept a photograph of you wearing it, but your facial features from bottom of chin to top of forehead and both edges of your face must be clearly shown.

  • I'm thankful that I'm not Swedish. The make you sit on the side and have your left ear showing.

    The photo cannot be too light, too dark, have any shadows crossing your face, be out of balance, have you smiling, your mouth open, you can be too close or too far away, have you with red eyes or flash marks on the skin washing you out.... the list goes on an on.

    I got back to the office and had a look. What ever they did made me look like an Oompa Loompa with a baboon's bum for a mouth and fifteen chins. My skin was an awful orange colour. Dire. These shots were lost in some paperwork that went into the shredder.

    Another thing about passport photos - they are going to define you for ten years. Unless you lose, misplace or burn your passport, that is what you are stuck with for ten years.

    So I bit the bullet today. I was off to see the hairdresser for my three monthly colour and cut. My eyebrows had been tamed on Thursday night - another thing that needed to be done. Left unchecked I'd be sporting brows that would belong on the lovechild of John Howard and Frida Kahlo.

    Surely this might help things out. Go in feeling pretty, surely that would help take a better picture, surely.

    The only flaw in this plan was that it was the hottest day in two years yesterday. It was still 35 degrees at midnight last night. I went to bed around midnight, woke at 2 pm - finally got back to sleep at 5 am and slept through til mid-morning, when I woke feeling lethargic and grumpy.

    The haircut went well. Lee did her normal great job with the cut and colour. Saying that I was going to get my passport shots done, Rachael the make-up artist grabbed me and fixed my face up.

    I'm not one for wearing a lot of make up and the thought of letting a make up artist near me sends shudders down my spine. I've recollections of walking out of department stores looking like baby prostitute or a drag queen after having my make up done. Rachael - who lives a goth lifestyle does amazing things - and she listens - and I left the salon feeling and looking lovely - and not feeling as if I wasn't wearing any make up at all. I've had Rachael fix my face on a number of occasions. Despite the fact that she is never seen without huge amounts of make up on herself, she tidied everything up well. In two minutes she'd evened out my skin tone, hid the spot on my chin, tidied my eyebrows and neatened my eyeliner.

    She also suggested that when the shot was being taken to press my tongue to the roof of my mouth. Gives the face a better shape. A great model's trick.

    The next stop, before heading off for a manicure and pedicure in a nearby suburb was to a camera shop to have the photos taken.

    The lady was rather short with me. A couple of shots were taken. I said that I was looking for a shot that softened my features. She said she couldn't photoshop the image which I said I realised. I just wasn't after a dreadful photo, no bug eyes, multiple chins and strange skin tones. She guffawed and said that all passport shots were supposed to be awful.

    I was shown the "best" one, said okay. I was in a rush. Come back in an hour to pick them up.

    When I did I was horrified. Stunned mullet look, eyes bulging, hair looked like I had some sort of strange mullet (The woman made me tuck my hair back behind my ears, the fact that if kept falling forward had something to do with this)

    This couldn't represent me for the next ten years.

    On leaving the shop, the photos were ripped up and ditched as soon as I walked out the door.

    The number of people who've said that passport photos are meant to be shocking doesn't surprise me. I've seen enough dreadful passport shots over the hears. Still, Doesn't mean that I have to be one of those people.

    I've also recollections of an old colleague of Middle Eastern extraction who said that he always went to a professional photographer to get his passport photos done. Normal shots done at the post office always made him look like a mugger. The photographer seemed to capture his softer side  - and it stopped him getting flagged at customs and immigration.

    Anyway, I'm a Leo. I've vain.
    I'm a Leo. My ego is everything.

    And basically I don't need my still fragile-at -times self-esteem knocked around by a really ugly passport shot that I have to weild around until I'm 54 (or until I put said passport through the wash like I did with another one many years ago)

    After a much needed feed and a coffee I made one more attempt at this passport photo lark. I tried a local chemist.

    The girl behind the counter was friendly and helpful. She let me brush my hair and touch up my make up - and generally treated me like a human being. Actually it was some of the best customer service I'd received in years. She relaxed me with her manner, didn't rush me and let me somehow got my face to relax.

    Third time lucky, though it's no oil painting, I've got a passport shot I can live with.


    Now I just have to get myself to a post office to lodge the form, pay the money and hope that my shot comes up to scratch.

    Pand xx


    Cathy said...

    I hate passport photos of myself too, and I always go to our local professional now who makes the best of a bad job. I hear what you're saying about the passport requirements though, it's a nightmare. As both my boys have dual French-Australian nationality, they are obliged to travel on their own Australian passport when we come to Australia. For minors, they only last 5 years. They also require a parent to present the papers to the French Embassy in Paris in person for each application. And of course, they are not in correlation; Yann's passport runs out this year, Etienne's lasts another 3. So I have to prepare all the paperwork, go to Paris, stand in line, only to be told that some little detail is usually missing (but I CAN send that by post at a later date) and then come home (3 hours one way on the train). I have to do that 4 times every ten years. Joy.

    Plastic Mancunian said...

    Hi Pand,

    Me too. I hate my passport photo. I updated mine last year and it looks awful. I took it in one of those supermarket photo booth thingies on a day when it was pouring with rain and with a queue of people waiting to use the booth.

    Added to that the fact that I had to take off my specs, meaning that I could barely see anything. In the end I accepted them because I didn't want to go through the crap again the next day.

    And now as well as interrogating me at the border, immigration officials now chuckle at the mutant standing before them.

    Your photo cannot be as bad as mine...




    The Elephant's Child said...

    My last passport renewal took several attempts. I don't precisely like the final one, but it doesn't make me want to cry either.
    I do hope it meets those exactly requirements.

    The Elephant's Child said...

    My last passport renewal took several attempts. I don't precisely like the final one, but it doesn't make me want to cry either.
    I do hope it meets those exactly requirements.

    PsychoCat said...

    Oh how I feel your pain. However, mine is always reliably monstrous and I just never ever look at it. Never.

    Kath Lockett said...

    Ah yes, the dreaded passport photo and the uber-strict Aussie government requirements.

    Sapphire needed a new one last year and I just took her to one of those cheap photobooths - and the embassy in Switzerland accepted it.

    My own was done about eight years ago and I'm *smiling* in it. Not sure why but it's a close-mouthed smile so I look slightly deranged.