We wrapped up the mayhem that is Summer Holiday with a wedding in Portland, OR. L and C, a pair of beautiful brides, got married in stunning style in a series of events over three days. Replacing the mook in the tux with a second bride is genius, it just looks way way better. We attended all of it, and enjoyed the hell out of every second. C is not, as I understand it, deaf herself, but is a part of the deaf community. CORRECTION: C identifies as deaf, and while she has some degree of hearing, it is partial. There are probably technical terms that would define this precisely, I decline to demonstrate my ignorance. Thus, there was a lot of ASL in play, which was humbling for a non-speaker like me in all the best ways. Also, lesbian weddings appear to be an unbroken wall of incredibly hot women, but I felt somehow that they were mostly long-shots, and also my wife was there; I stuck to the canapés.
None of this has anything to do with my point here. What does matter is that L has a
remarkable smile. One of those 1000 watt smiles. L was visibly nervous and tense, so
it was always a pleasure when the smile popped out. (C is getting short shrift here, but
L is my wife's friend, so there.)
After the ceremony the brides were being flogged through the intense gamut of Mandatory
Photographs, off to one side, while the rest of us sat around drinking and eating
and talking. I won't accuse anyone else, but if you wanted to compare me
to some exquisitely self-satisfied farm animal, I would unable to mount a credible rebuttal.
Since I am me, though, I noticed the photographic suffering going on over there.
For each grouping, L turned on the smile, BAM. Snap. Then the smile faded quickly and
she was back to marshalling the next grouping, and then the smile, and Snap, and so on.
I would never accuse L of a false smile. I am certain that for each photo she
took a breath, and found that happy place, that joy in the moment, and brought it
out for the camera, for the photo. Nevertheless, that smile has the character of a
pose. Of course, everyone else was posing at least as much, but I wasn't looking
at them. I'm looking at the brides, duh.
Ok, so what?
Well, later on, having observed L's extremely poised camera pose, I noticed
her with her wife, notably, but also with other friends, every now and then
having a moment even in the stress and madness of a gigantic wedding. The smile
would come out again. Subtly but palpably different. I tried to quantify what was
different, but it's not obvious. Something about the eyes. I think she lets her
eyes close a little when there's no camera.
That was special. The same 1000 watts, maybe 1100, but without the pose. Powered
entirely by joy. Again, it's not a difference between "false" and "genuine" at
all, it's just the context, the intent, the moment. Posing for the camera is
one thing, and being in the calming presence of your loved ones is another.
I'll unbend enough to propose that the latter is somehow warmer.
Long time readers, at least the attentive ones, will notice that this is a
difference I harp on constantly, the difference between the pose, "camera face,"
and this other thing, this warmer, emotion-powered thing that somehow sidesteps
the camera. The the difference between a good portrait and a great one is when that
warmer non-pose is directed, somehow, at the camera. The sitter sees
"you" rather than the lens, the sitter feels seen rather than observed.
To pose for the camera, to "act" in some sense (although the act may be a performance
of some truth), but to not act for the close friend, for the loved one, is
thoroughly natual to us. We do it automatically, without thought, and indeed
to do otherwise borders on the impossible. The point of the great portraitist,
of the great portrait, is that the sitter is "natural" in front of the lens,
despite awareness of the lens.
It's a subtle distinction, and unless you see it side-by-side, you might never
notice the difference. Nevertheless, it's real, and we humans as, essentially,
face-reading machines with stomachs, notice it instantly in the right circumstances.
The meaning of the two postures is quite different, and getting that committed
to a photograph is quite a trick.
Also, it was extremely fun to watch, and very warming to the soul. I have
high hopes for C and L, and wish them the very very very best. Plus,
they throw a hell of a party, omg. So good.