A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


We Would Rather Not Smile
Saturday, November 21, 2009

Even now I remember that as kid I wanted to blend in and not be noticed. I was around 9 when I was invited to the birthday party of a girl I really liked at school. It was the American Grammar School in Buenos Aires and because my mother taught there I was able to attend without paying the very high tuition. The girl was Susan Stone and her father was the CEO of General Motors Argentina. I told my mother I needed to have a pair of blue jeans. She bought me a pair that was Argentine, neither a Levis nor the more desirable Lees. I was furious and ashamed, “I am not going to that party with these. They will know.” In the end I did go as my mother explained that she did not have enough money to buy them and besides my friends were mostly American and their parents got the jeans in the US.

Had I even had a pair of the real McCoys I never did blend in because I had a crooked smile. My friend made fun of my crooked smile. I decided I would never smile and when I posed for photographs I did my best not to smile. I could not make it straight.

Perhaps this is the reason why I never really made my daughters smile for pictures and I continued with the idea when I started taking pictures of Rebecca. Rosemary got angry at me telling me that my pictures of an unsmiling 4-year-old were disturbing. I did not know how to counter her argument. Rebecca’s mother and family also kept asking me to take pictures of Rebecca smiling. It was about then that I figured our a relevant counter argument. I told Rosemary that I photographed Rebecca like a Victorian little girl. Victorians not only considered children to be adults they made them work long hours under terrible conditions without any consideration. I further explained that such 19th century English photographers as Julia Margaret Cameron and the Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson always took portraits of children without ever making them smile. Rosemary finally gave up on me and they accepted my take on Rebecca.

Now here we have the 7-year-old Lauren who has an even more deadpan and serious expression than Rebecca. I am in my glory as I now can take pictures of another unsmiling child who will never be subjected to jeers for having a crooked smile.

Yesterday we went to Lauren’s first in-progress class performance at her ballet class at Arts Umbrella. I was delighted to find out that her instructor is the remarkable modern dancer Lina Fitzner who also taught Rebecca. After the performance we braved the rain and lightning and had some crepes at the Granville Island food court. Lauren chose to have chocolate crepes.

Today I continued with my “new” technique (a rediscovered one from my youth) of using Kodak Tri-X with a Nikon motor driven camera. Lauren wanted to show off her new earrings. She posed on the living room psychiatric couch with her doll Angela. I am as pleased with the pictures as Lauren is. But I am not going to smile about it. No.


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