the focus is sharp in the city

I needed new headshots and publicity shots, so I asked my friend, Kaelen, to come over to Castle Wheaton and help me out. We took a few dozen pictures in a few different locations, and I’m super happy with what we got. Here’s one of them:

When we finished shooting for the day, I had a realization that probably means more to me than it will to anyone else, but since that’s never stopped me from writing about something before…

I hate having my picture taken. I feel like I have ugly teeth, my forehead is too big, and my eyes always reveal how deeply sad I am inside. If you wonder why I’m usually pulling a face in pictures, now you know why. It’s like my armor, I guess.

This started early one morning when I was seven or eight years-old. I had to have headshots taken for commercial casting agents, and my mom took me out of school one day to meet with a photographer she knew. I remember feeling like I was getting a free day off, because I didn’t have to go to school (I don’t know why we didn’t do this on a weekend. Or maybe we did and I don’t remember that part of the day correctly. It’s not the important part, which I’m getting to, anyway). On the way to wherever we were going, my mom drove us through a McDonald’s, and let me get an Egg McMuffin. This was a big deal for me, because my parents never got us fast food. So I remember getting that, a greasy hashbrown, and that concentrated orange juice that came in the plastic cup with a foil seal. I wasn’t allowed to eat in the car, so I kept my bag of fancy McDonald’s breakfast in my lap until we got to the park and met the photographer.

He made me uncomfortable right away. He was just too wound up, too excited, had way too much energy. I was so little, I didn’t know how to vocalize any of these feelings, and my parents were very much into me and my sister following rules, so I just behaved myself and sat down at a picnic table to eat. I can see and feel it now: it’s cool and a little damp, probably late Spring. The picnic table is made of wood, and someone has scratched their initials into the bench. I have carefully stabbed the straw through the foil top of my orange juice, and my hash brown is still in its little cardboard holder, sitting on the carefully unfolded bag that I’m using as a placemat. I have my Egg McMuffin in my hand, ready to eat it. The photographer grabs it out of my hand, takes a bite, spits the food out on the grass, and hands it back to me. “Okay!” He says, with terrifying enthusiasm, “act like you just took a big bite of this and you love it!” He begins taking photos.

I don’t remember anything else with any clarity. It was almost forty years ago, but I can still feel — right now I feel — how upset that made me. One of my overwhelming memories from being a kid actor is that I didn’t have a voice in my own life, and that I had to do what the adults around me wanted me to do. That guy, who I’m positive didn’t mean anything cruel and was just excited to get to work, snatching my breakfast away from me and turning it into a prop for a photo shoot I didn’t even want to be part of, perfectly encapsulated everything I ever felt about being a kid actor. For the next few hours, I had  to pose like an idiot, doing exaggerated expressions and changing my clothes a dozen times, because that’s how it worked in the late 70s.

Flash forward about four or five years. (My god I can’t believe it was only four or five years later, but that’s how fast the childhood that was stolen from me went by.) I’m in a studio with the other kids from Stand By Me. We’re posing for some publicity shots that will eventually make their way into teen magazines. I feel so awkward and uncomfortable. I am not cool like River, I am not famous like Corey, and I am not funny like Jerry. I am just sad and weird and self conscious and I want to be anywhere else.

Flash forward another year or so. I’m trying to figure out who I am and what I’m doing in my life. I’m at some party at Paramount, where I work every day on TNG. I’m only fourteen or maybe fifteen. There are no other kids my age there, and I feel sad and weird. I can’t relate to kids my own age because I never get to be around them, and I can’t relate to the adults I am always around, because I am a kid. I’m trying to figure out what I’m going to do at this party where nobody is paying attention to me, when a photographer comes up and takes my picture. He doesn’t ask, he doesn’t give me a chance to get ready. He just calls my name and when I look up, he takes this shot, which of course goes into a teen magazine:

Maybe you don’t see it, but I can see how sad I am, even though I’m trying to do this smile thing I’ve settled upon where I don’t show my ugly teeth that I hate.

They say that the camera doesn’t lie, that the camera reveals what’s going on inside a person, and I think that’s accurate. In all these pictures of me from the 80s and 90s, you can see how weird and awkward I am, and I can see how much I wanted to be anywhere else. Maybe I didn’t like pictures because they made me feel so vulnerable, since I was forced to just be me, instead of putting on the mask of a character I was playing. Maybe I just didn’t want to pose for pictures because it was yet another thing that normal kids didn’t do, and I wanted to be a normal kid (for values of “normal” that I didn’t really understand, but heavily romanticized. Thanks, John Hughes).

Anyway. This is all context that, like I said, probably doesn’t matter to anyone who isn’t me. It is context that matters to me because the photos we took are only the second time in my life that I have asked someone to take my picture, because I wanted it taken. I realized that when we were finishing up, and it made me feel happy.

I love the pictures that we got, and I love that I’m at a place in my life, finally, that has allowed me to feel a little more comfortable in the camera’s eye.