26 January 2007

Passport Photos

I have had almost ten years to prepare for my passport renewal, which expires March 2nd. So, of course, I have left it until now. What with work, and the odd hours I can actually go to the consulate to get it done, time just sort of slipped away. However, the most important reason I haven’t gotten it done yet is that of the Passport Picture.

Any ID photo of importance must be worthy. I even make DMV re-take my picture if don’t think it will look good on my drivers license. One time, because I kept getting automatic extensions on my license, and the photo was so out of date, I ‘lost’ it and had a lovely new one made up. However, misplacing a passport because it has a dog-ugly photo is something not even I would do. And folks, you have to show that baby for ten whole years, crossing all sorts of international borders, and using it regularly when living overseas. It must be a work of art.

The last time a got a passport I sat through, and paid for, three different shoots. That was before the glorious age of digital cameras. Now, you can not only instantly check and re-shoot, but digitally enhance said photo. Nevertheless, one must be well prepared.

Last week I got up early so that I could do my hair and put on tons of make-up, and make it to the photo shop before it got too hot and sweaty. There is only one option out in my neighborhood, and I have never liked the quality of their work, but figured I would just have them re-shoot it as many times as necessary. I knew they didn’t digitize photos but decided if I painted my face really well, it would be ok.

As I expected, the surly “photographer”, really just a 5th rate technician, huffed when I tried to fix my hair in the mirror. The ten minute walk to the photo store had done serious damage to my do, not to mention I was dripping with sweat. The guy took a picture; I looked at it and made him take another, and then a third. He was of no help at all in trying to get a good shot. I finally decided to just pay for them and if, when printed up, they were really bad, I’d go into town for more. Nothing could have prepared me for how terrible the pictures looked when they were printed. White trash is about the only description I can give. I had thought the top I wore would look good but it did not. I actually had sweat beaded on my lip. I pocketed the pics and left.

The next day at work I was relating the story to a friend who said I needed to go into town where there was store after store of places that enhanced photos. I was worried that changing a passport photo might be slightly illegal. My friend assured me that all they do is erase dark circles under your eyes, maybe add a little rouge to your cheeks, lop off stray hair, and only slightly soften facial lines.

I later took one more look at the tired-whore photos and knew I had to go for digital improvement. But first, I would have to get my hair done. It was time for cut and color anyway, so I planned the day starting with a careful decision of choice of clothing. Then I applied massive make-up, and grabbed a taxi to Toni’s salon.

As soon as I arrived, I explained my need for extra special attention as I was headed off to get pictures after he finished. We decided to change my cut and this time I said I wanted red streaks on the burgundy hair instead of the blonde he keeps giving me. That took over two hours and then it was time for the styling.

Toni is forever trying to get me to let him put crap in my hair for a more stylish look. In point of fact, I do like how it looks, but simply cannot stand the feel of stiff, gooey, hair. However, this time I told him to go wild. First, my hair was dried using a round brush. Then came the flat iron to up-turn the back. This was followed by the goop and at least ten minutes of scrunching and twisting and pushing around. After that was the hair spray. I looked good.

It turned out there was a photo shop next door. Toni took me over and we talked about the pictures. We found out they didn’t do touch-ups, but it was so convenient that I went ahead. After I sat in the chair I noticed it wasn’t a digital camera, so I would not be able to check the picture. What the hell, it cost very little. They took the shot, and twenty minutes later brought it back to the salon where I was waiting. Another no go. Toni said he would take me to the digital shops, but not before he re-did the styling, which he didn’t like in the picture.

He started by combing down all the poof he had given me, then plugged in the curling iron. He was in his element. After all the times I have told him to leave my hair alone, I had given him carte blanche. He rolled and fried about eight curls on the top of my head amidst my constant screeches that he was pulling my hair. Then he got out the comb and started to separate and tease my hair. Damn, I was never going to be able to brush it out. He rubbed in more guck, twirled, pulled, and placed strands at appropriate angles. Then he handed me a plastic face shield to hold in place as he sprayed on toxic amounts of hairspray. There were several more minutes of final touches before we got a taxi to the photography shop.

Turned out Toni new all the guys there. He explained what I needed and we walked up stairs to take the pictures. Like all the stores on that street, this was once a French something-or-other. Very possibly a villa. Not much has been done to the majority of these places in a hundred years, and it was fun to look at the old tile floors and wooden doors, and wonder who had walked these halls in a bygone era.

Once I was seated, I had Toni adjust my hair. We took three pictures and they both agreed that they were good. Back downstairs, the shots were up-loaded on to the computer and it was easy to choose which was the best one. Mr. Digital sat at the computer, me next to him, and Toni on my right. Then the ‘improvement’ process started. You have no idea how many little errors there are on your face until it is blown up large enough to fill a computer screen. I knew then and there I never wanted to be in the movies. I said what I did and didn’t want done, and Toni translated. But I don’t think the magic man really listened and I don’t think he needed to.

I watched as his left hand flew over the keyboard and his right hand marked, and or circled, bits of my face. Some sort of color scale would spring up onto the screen and then this graph-like thing, which the tech adjusted with such speed that I could never quite catch on to what he was doing. He lightened up the raccoon eyes, slightly smoothed out a few lines, erased unsightly freckles, and gave me the whitest damn teeth I have ever seen. I kept worrying that he was going to turn me into a twenty-year-old. But actually, when the pictures were printed in three different sizes; US passport being the largest and Vietnamese work permit being the smallest, one really couldn’t tell that all the digital stuff had been done. I certainly would be nice if that computer program would work with such ease on my living face.

It had been a very long day, but well worth it. It is now my firm belief that one must have a personal stylist to escort one through the entire process of identification photos.

Here’s hoping they don’t stop me at the border for traveling with fake ID.