I had to give up something I truly loved today: my old passport photo.
I don’t think I need to belabor too much what most of us already know: 99% of all bureaucratic photography blows. The photos that are attached to our driver’s licenses, passports and other official documents suck. And it isn’t just because the lighting is terrible, or the colors of the background are unflattering to all members of our species, or that these photographers inevitably catch us at one of the worst possible angles to make us look our best.
These photos suck as more than craft–they suck as art. They capture a person that doesn’t exist. A cipher that we create for public officials and bouncers and cops, for the benefit of people who only look at this photo when they’re probably already annoyed with us. These photos are proof of an identity that most of us really don’t much like. And we submit to being photographed in this way only because we have to produce some kind of photo evidence so that someone who isn’t a friend of ours can see if we actually ARE who we claim to be.
We’d never allow these photos to be taken if we didn’t need to travel via car or leave the country. If we didn’t need them as a evidence that we should be allowed to walk in the door of a club, or to buy a six-pack of beer or a pack of cigarettes, or be let off with a warning, or be given our freaking mail.
But every so often, the Gods of Bureaucratic Procedure smile on us, and we actually manage to get a driver’s license photo or a passport photo that looks good. I’ve been driving since I was sixteen, for example, and I’ve had two Driver’s License photos that didn’t look bad. And I carried this passport photo for a decade quite happily, at least in part because I loved this photo.
In retrospect, I think I also kinda loved the person I was at this age. She was working pretty hard on feeling good about herself in various ways, and she had been taking very solidly good care of herself for almost two years, and she had the body and the face to show for it. But she was also captured at a moment when she was feeling free, unburdened, hopeful. And I haven’t felt that way on every day that has passed since.
I knew it was probably time to renew the passport about this time last year, which was the first time that a border guard looked at my passport and said, “This doesn’t look like you” before he handed it back to me. I’d already changed a lot, and I was in the midst of a lot more serious changes.
The passport photo I had taken today is not nearly so “pretty” as the old one. And I’m not going to show it to you, because I think it blows–not because it won’t pass inspection from a cop or a bouncer, but because it doesn’t FEEL like me, to me.
The woman in it was always going to be ten years older, of course, but she’s also been through a lot of amazing stuff in that decade. Some of it was really hard, brutal–pain for myself and my loved ones, tragic deaths of friends and close family, the end of some relationships that had been deeply important to me, the bittersweet transformation of other relationships into something that was still beautiful, but not what we had hoped it would be.
But this was also the decade that I obtained two university degrees. The decade that I helped to found a new game development studio and worked consistently as its Lead Writer. The decade that I created a universe. The decade I wrote my first novel. The decade that I won my first fiction contest and published my first collection of short stories. The decade that I visited Europe for the first time, saw Paris and Stockholm and Copenhagen and Athens and Florence and Pisa and Rome. The decade that I worked summer after summer on a major archaeological excavation. The decade that both of my beautiful daughters became adults.
In the end, it has been a decade in which I’ve gone through tremendous growth as a person. And I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve grown to have a healthy love and respect for me.
I’ve also learned that photographs don’t define me unless I either take them myself, or decide I like them. The passports and driver’s license photos of life don’t matter: what matters is your selfie.
Today, this is me. 😉