‘Luckily’ for me a year on it is my understanding that the signs of the surgical reconstruction to the inside of my mouth are barely visible on my face.
I place luckily in inverted commas since what people can see and what I feel are two entirely different things – ‘luckily’.
So much so that it was with great trepidation that I approached my first photo shoot in 3 years.
When people said, ‘you can hardly see the scars,’ or ‘you’d never tell’ about my alterations I wasn’t entirely sure if they were just being kind.
My own mirror gazing (which has been hard at times, morbidly fascinating at others!) and countless self photographic portraits, still revealed to me a slight but visible difference in the symmetry of my face and smile. As an Actress hoping to return to work, it became a personal mini-obesession as to how well my ‘new’ face and smile could, would or should translate to camera. I could clearly see and consciously feel the difference.
Was the difference so slight perhaps that others had chosen to dismiss it for the sake of my feelings? Well the proof would be in the proofs and the impartial opinion of the photographer, I had decided.
Considering I live with the consequence of no longer being able to open my mouth as wide as before, the constant feeling of tightness to the inside of the cheek and partial numbness on the outside of the face and neck on my left side, not to mention my missing premolars (I miss you guys R.I.P!) It was almost impossible to believe that it was not visible to all and sundry. Especially when I smile and feel like I have a hamsters pouch housing a golf ball inside my left cheek!
Now without running the risk of sounding like a ‘crazy’, I don’t mean visible in the first glance, severely deformed, scarred, do a double take kind of way – but visible to the watchful, unforgiving, microscopic magnifying eye of the now ‘terrifying’ camera!
Like the time that I willingly jumped off of what I was told to be a cliff whilst blindfolded, (turned out to be a pier! True story – Shamanic Yogic retreat exercise :-) ) I had no choice but to plunge in and face the aftermath.
Most Actors update their headshot picture yearly or at least every two years, mine was now 4 years old!! (and btw the year of the pic is printed on your CV for all and sundry to do the math! Not a good look)
So here am I, wanting, needing and feeling the urge to get back out there into the real world and go back to work, but needing the very thing I fear the most ~ the infamously dreaded by most Actors worldwide ~ headshot! Funny you might think, but Actors around the globe moan and groan familiarly at the realisation that the old shot has run its course.
We are most of us by nature, (mostly), kinda shy ~ about being ourselves. Ask us to take on a role, any role, dress up like a chicken and do the moonwalk outside Buckingham Palace and we might just oblige, but putting on a plain black or white scoop neck Gap T-shirt (Actress’ you hear me ~ I know you do ;-)) to be ‘naturally’ photographed, and we will melt into a puddle of insecurity on the spot.
Ask us to don beautiful clothes or costume and strut our stuff at a premier, press night, publicity shoot etc, we get to it ~ its a role. But the headshot and its monastic, restrictive formula of ‘natural’ lighting, make-up, hair, expression and PLAIN black or white scoop/v/crew neck T or vest is just an excruciating, necessary nightmare. (As a footnote, I would like to add, that EVERY photographer will ALWAYS tell EVERY Actor to bring a LARGE selection of tops with different colours, textures, patterns, necks, sleeves etc for them to choose from. Every Actor will oblige, and EVERY headshot will end up being taken in the afore-mentioned uniform of either light or dark coloured plain v/scoop/crew neck shirt/T/vest! Knowing this I bought a bunch of tops to take to the shoot which I swiftly returned to the shops unworn after the shoot ;-) )
We are not Models, we are Actors. Most of us making our living from the individuality of the very defects and quirkiness that that the headshot aims to expose whilst we squirm through each frame hoping to hide. Personality and role-play soften the reality of watching our images played back to us. A moving shot is often a hundred times more endearing than a still one!
And so I plunged in to my session with John Clark, reputedly the best in the biz. But more importantly for me ~ for the past 10 years he has been the Don Juan of digital photography and re-touching (Yes!) Surely he would give me a truthful opinion, surely he would have the tools to correct anything too unforgiving?
Although I’m still working on my smile, and my post pregnancy, surgery etc excess weight (note to excess weight ~ yes we have been together a while now, and yes we have become familiar, maybe a bit too familiar, but I am officially breaking up with you, I don’t want you and it is time to move on, deal with it.) I guess I am more relieved than pleased about the pictures that came out of the session and Johns kind (but hopefully honest) comments about my post surgical appearance. Not to mention his wizardly re-touching and photographic skill.
My smile still doesn’t yet feel natural to me as it once did. But it’s getting there. This session done just over a year post surgery, is a true personal milestone and has opened up a whole new sensation in my healing process that is slowly and delicately unfolding and evolving like a flower bud. Just like the burst of a new bud, it is painful, yet transformative. I guess beauty really is and can be found in pain. Now there’s the silver lining ;-)
John Clark can be found at www.johnclarkphotography.com ~ Thanks again John x