On the Grad Glam Shots

My high school graduate picture combined bad taste on my part with artless camera work on the photographer’s part with hair so puffy that it had no part.

A great blessing of being (almost!) fifty is that such pictures are hidden: a blessing I share with the world by not sharing with the world.

Recently I received a question about high school pictures, a good question from a very bright student:

I have been recently receiving a lot of graduation announcements. Many of which
consist of various professionally done glamour shots. I do not see
anything wrong with a single conservative picture of the graduate, but
a collage of all kinds of poses? I find this to be highly conceited,
maybe even self-worship. Why does society accept this? Why are good,
devout Christians blinded to the obvious self-adoration it promotes?
Where did such a custom originate? How did it become so popular? And
where must we draw the line? (Or am I just crazy?)

Time are bad when the prudent worry about being crazy. The student is certainly not crazy, though she might be wrong or driven to censoriousness by bad art.

There is nothing inherently wrong with a series of “professionally done glamour shots.” Unlike torturing leprous kittens for fun, sending your friends a slew of poses might not be conceited or self-indulgent, it might even be good art.

Charity demands my belief that some “glamour shots” are actually done by true professionals and impart glamour. My experience in receiving these shots has not been good, but I am a hopeful person.

Why does anyone take a picture at graduation?

Graduation is a moment where society marks movement into adulthood. Parents, close friends, and future biographers cherish such pictures, as do any future children looking for mockable parental moments. I can see parents and teachers asking for a photo as a gift as the graduate celebrates his teachers and parents gift to him.

And then I am reminded that for some bizarre reason graduation is no longer a celebration of the school, a way to honor the teachers, but a celebration of the student for having the sense to open a priceless package: education.

Don’t misunderstand me. I am all for parties and gift giving: almost any excuse will do. It just seems to me that a graduation should  be an acknowledgment of a personal achievement, which has the natural reward of a diploma, and a grateful thanksgiving by the graduate to his alma mater and teachers. Congratulations are due the graduate, gifts to the teachers.

Hanging around me are class pictures, from the Immortal First Class, to present college students and I cherish those pictures. I enjoy getting shots of former students as the years pass: Christmas is a good excuse. I am thankful technology has let this happen constantly through Facebook.

It is hard to see in that context the purpose of numerous “glamour shots.” As they are generally done, they don’t capture the student in time, but someone like the student wished they were. I have had to look from the program to the person at a graduation, because the photo was so little like the actual, much more interesting person.

I begin to suspect, and perhaps this is uncharitable, that the pictures are not gifts to us, but celebrations of self.

If a person takes a slew of glam shots for a graduation (or even a wedding), because they love looking at a “better than real life” image of themselves, then the problem is probably not self-adoration, but self-loathing. For one moment, they can look like the Barbie or Ken in the glossy or one television. Mostly, such pictures make me sad, it is hard to get righteously indignant about the pathetic.

My guess is that the cheapness of digital photography, the ease of manipulating images, combined with our consumption of millions of such image has led to the growth of the custom. It is mockable enough that a quick Google gets one to sites dedicated to mockery of such “glamour shots.” Such sites, the modern freak show, are cruel . . . and no more “amusing” than the old freak show.

All glam shots may not be self-indulgent, but all mockery of hapless high schoolers pictures is cruel.

So I can imagine a context (barely) where a “glam shot” is a good idea, and dressing up can be fun, but it is hard to imagine a context where too much digital manipulation or “posing” is a good idea. Of course, we all pose for photographs, but in the hands of a bad photographer these become stereotyped, contrived, and hide more than they reveal of the soul.

In other words: look your best to God’s glory, but look like God’s best you, not a false “you” imposed on your form by fallen humans. I enjoy putting on grown up clothes and taking out the Fairest Flower, but I still am a portly, older man: flaws and all!

Call me Biblical, but I want to love people for inner beauty shining through their forms than for glam.

At the worst, of course, such shots are a symptom of a culture that so bombards young men and women with ugliness and with false images of people that they reach for one moment  of social acceptability. If portraits we must have, find an artist, spend some time with the artist, and get a good picture done . . . or just send a link to a Facebook collection of live shots.

Christians want to love each other as God is making them to be inside. We accept and love any outer wrapper as a good gift from God!



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