Monday, May 6, 2013

Profiling Ourselves

I don't know about you, but I tend to agonize over profile pictures. The only place I really have to worry about it is on Facebook -- and here, I guess. Once I find one I am willing to use, I usually leave it there for a long time. I just think the whole process of choosing one is so weird. The reason for the choice can only be based in some kind of vanity, when you think about it. Sadly, vanity is the order of the day in the social media age.

My profile picture on this site (under "about") is one I had my wife take when I needed one for When Falls the Coliseum. I thought I would steal from Ray Bradbury, who had an author picture with his cat. I liked that having a pet in the picture took the emphasis off of "me-ness." And I guess I also liked that is said something about him: "I like my cat." Well, I like my dog and she serves to take the attention off of me a little, to, so I used that pic. (For the home page, I use the rabbit. I think of him as more of a symbol than a profile, though -- my goal: finding the rabbit under the hat.)

The thing is, Ray Bradbury was Ray Bradbury. He had other pictures that were just of him, and he looked nice and authorly in them. But...he was a big deal. I am not. I can't seem to be able to force myself to pose like a prize-winning author. Or, a successful recording artist...

There is no picture of me on my CD. Again, I can't seem to be able to act the part -- to strike the pose of stardom. It just feels so phony and I hate "phony" more than just about everything in the world. (I'm thinking of buying myself a nice orange hunting hat with ear flaps.)

I'm not particularly worried about my appearance. It's not a question of hating to get my picture taken. I'm not what one would call fond of the process of getting my picture taken, but I don't worry about the results much. I just can't act like I am Sting.

I try to find a profile picture that shows the real me, at least as I see him. Most of my pictures are of me behind the drums, either playing or looking out from behind them and smiling. I like the latter kind best. After all, playing music makes me happy. It's a picture of truth. And shouldn't the picture represents you represent the truth about you? (And the beauty of the drum pictures is that people who come out to see the band usually take them and "tag" me in them, so I don't have to do the work!)

Is this all worth worrying about? Well, yeah. I think so. If we are communicating with our words in the digital age, we are also telling a story with our picture. The picture should identify us -- at least to those we want to find us. (I don't like when people put up, say, pictures of their kids. I get that that is an attempt to put forth the most important thing in one's life, but it does me no good if I come across a "David Johnson" and I am wondering if he is the same guy I played T-ball with in 1975.)

The picture should be honest: no star poses; no duck lips; no desperate camera angles to minimize chins and maximize cleavage; no run-of-the-mill pictures that everyone else has. It should be you. I think the choice should be considered a bigger decision than people make it, but that it should feel like an accident.

In the end, that is kind of a tall order, I guess. But we could at least try. We do, after all, want to be understood, don't we?


  1. Head shots are hard. I took one and ran it through this fine product of my alma mater: using the Modigliani filter; the result is what you see on my Blogger profile. It looks enough like me that my mother likes it, which I think is a win.

    (I also tried using the Botticelli filter; my mother did NOT like that version).

    1. That is pretty cool. You figured out a way to represent yourself and also to communicate something about your artisitc nature, as well. you;re right, a "win" -- especially if Mom is pleased!

  2. I was recently browsing the web page of a large Classics department at an elite university and got a kick out of the way the grad students presented themselves in their photos. The vast majority of them stood in front of ancient ruins, alongside priceless objects, or in front of exotic, clearly not-North-American vistas. It seemed to me that they were perpetuating falsehoods about what grad students actually do. Only a couple of photos accurately showed how scholars in training spend their time: on campus, in libraries, and/or sitting with a book.

    The ones who weren't trying to show how fascinatingly well-traveled they are just seemed more confident. In an alternate universe where I had more time in my day, I'd find it interesting to track those students and others like them over time and see if there's any correlation between how they depict themselves in their official photos and whether they land jobs in their field.

    1. "The ones who weren't trying to show how fascinatingly well-traveled they are just seemed more confident." I guess it is the equivalent of the football player who crosses the goal line and just hands the ball to the referee -- no dance; no ball-spiking. It's good to come off like what you do is effortless, I think. The European pics just feel like so much staging.