Photophobia

David Colman Says, “Don't Point That Thing at Me.”

When history is written… well, it won’t be. That is because there won’t be words anymore, not words on a page like the ones you are reading. The theory of natural selection is undergoing a teensy shift, wherein “Survival of the Fittest” is morphing into “Survival of the Hottest.”

You know who they are, the people who look great on Facebook or Billy Farrell, despite the odds. And if they write history— well, it’s going to be mostly pictures of them.

This is not about natural or gym-induced hotness, both of which have been around since the ancient Greeks. This is about that special brand of hotness that meant next to nothing a decade ago and is now everything—photogenic hotness.

You may not have noticed how important this elusive quality has become. If not, there are only two possible reasons: You are photogenic, or you have Photoshop.

Because even a shut-in could tell you that today, looking great in photographs is far more important than how you actually look in person. That is because, with all the various apps and sites and feeds piling mountains of digital corn into our wireless feedbags, we see our friends and acquaintances much more often in the digital realm than in the old-fashioned RL-format. (Yes, even “real life” has gone acronym.)

So why do I care? I will tell you, and I am not proud of it. I am not among the photogenic few. No matter what the setting, I invariably come off looking like a stiff, pasty frat boy—and I was never a frat boy. While other people are conniving their way into a photo op, I am not so subtly opting out. (How I wish that my common excuse—that I don’t show up on film—were as true for me as it was for my Transylvanian ancestors.)

ColemanDon’t get me wrong. I’m not saying I’m ugly. I don’t think I’m ugly. I don’t think other people think I’m ugly. I have been told that when glimpsed across a dark and crowded room, I bear a resemblance to the Austrian tennis player Thomas Muster, who was super sexy when he was number one back in the 1990s. I appear to be aging fairly well, maybe because I am vigilant about sunblock, and so I am usually pale. (Actually, better than Muster, who appears to have rejected the concept of sunblock.) My sun aversion may be related to my lack of photogeniality, because my Casper-white face invariably takes on a doughy, two-dimensional pallor in photographs.

Photographers understand this curious affliction, especially fashion photographers. They’ve all been alarmed when a rather plain-looking model shows up for a shoot, only to transmute into an impossible beauty on the monitor. Some of the world’s most famous models—Karen Elson and Missy Rayder among them—are known for having faces the camera just loves.

And some it does not love. But that’s not easy to predict. I’ve had many a photographer swear that they would take a good picture of me, only to find themselves staring in disbelief at the LCD screen and saying, “Wow—you weren’t exaggerating.”

I have a friend who has it worse than I do— very pretty but equally cursed by the camera lens. A glamorous editor at a glossy fashion magazine, she was forced to be photographed for the contributors’ page. The result? After an hour, the photographer gave up and told her, “You are the most wooden person I ever shot.”

As this suggests, part of the problem with this strange condition is that being unphotogenic actually makes you more unphotogenic. In my case, the mere motion of a camera being pointed at me is, by itself, enough to make my face freeze into an expression of extreme discomfort and anxiety, topped off with an awkward, forced smile. “Can I please just give you a liter of blood instead?” my expression seems to say.

It never used to bother me. For the first few decades of life, being unphotogenic was just a funny quirk that had no negative effect on my life. The upside was that, no matter how bad I looked in real life, there was no way that I looked as bad as I looked in a photo. And back then, I only had to duck out of camera range—usually my mother’s—a few times a year.

Now, it happens a few times a week. There are party photographers and camera phones around every corner, like you’re trapped in a video game called Point & Shoot—and I don’t want to be the rude guy who gets all, “Don’t take my picture.” You don’t either. Save your rudeness for the phone company’s customer service.

What to do? If you want to make sure the photo never goes anywhere further than the camera, just close your eyes and think of England.

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