When I was fifteen someone at an advertising agency told me she thought I could model. When I was nineteen and looking for ways to make money that involved as little actual work as possible I decided to put this compliment to the test. My tenure at the local modeling school lasted exactly as long as it took me to understand these model folks were really only interested in my looks. They didn’t seem to care at all about the Real Me.
It was an odd career choice anyway, especially given the relationship I would come to develop with the camera. One morning in my late twenties I arrived at my restaurant job and was asked to be a part of a promotional photo. The result had me posed in profile at the bar looking hauntingly pale. When the Guatemalan pantry cook saw the photo he laughed and pointed at me. “Fantasma,” he chuckled. Ghost.
And so began fifteen years of frightening pictures. Someone would aim a camera my way, tell me to smile, and the trouble would begin. It seemed to me that cameras must have been made exponentially more complicated since my childhood when the duration between point and shoot felt as brief as a snap. Now there was an interminable pause, a pause plenty long enough for something within me that had once felt valuable but now did not wish to be seen to flee.
Pictures of me became a joke at work. One taken at a garden party had me with my arm around a good friend, smiling uncertainly. My face was the color of clay, and my eyes had the hollowed out look of a junky between fixes. Someone posted the picture in the waiter’s station and everyone had a good laugh about it. Look at you, Bill! What is wrong with you?
I had the creepy sensation of glimpsing my own corpse. I hated the picture. That’s not me, I thought.
And I was right.
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