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  • David Mathews

On having a new profile photograph


How recent should your photo be? Actors deserve some licence, I suppose, given how ageist their trade is, though offering something that looks like it comes from an archive is a bit much. Models, musicians, parliamentary candidates? You have to get through the door.

A writer has no excuse, so when Gemini Magazine asked me for a mugshot, I thought I had better come clean. (Gemini have been kind enough to select a little conceit of mine as one of their flash fiction finalists.)

So a new pic then, to go with a bio that, inevitably, harks back to what I once did as a job.

Our daughter has a new profile picture on Facebook, a photo of her late chocolate brown Labrador. The dog, Maggie, having taken over the household 13 years ago, and been nursemaid and playmate to our granddaughter and grandson, is mourned by the family and a good part of the neighbourhood. The children's school sent a letter of condolence. Dammit, how good is that? To my mind, Maggie merited an obit in The Times more than most, and should have been up there last week with Jonathan Miller, Gary Rhodes and Clive James. Quite a foursome, Jonathan, Gary, Maggie and Clive. Maggie would have stuck closest to Gary, naturally.

But I don’t have a pet, so I cannot honour it like Amelia has the lovely Maggie, and, besides, pets don't care too much for the written word.

Boy is a new photo scary. As you get older – and, kids, I don’t mean tiptoeing through your 40s or 50s – it’s bad enough looking in a mirror, but that’s nothing compared to having a photograph to replace one from a couple of years ago. In a mirror you can grin, animate your face, try to look distinguished or dignified or winsome or enigmatic or stick your tongue out at Old Father Time. Not with a photo. It’s the freezing of expression by the camera that kills. Forget close-ups, you say? A cop-out. Likewise you're kidding no-one but yourself with an action shot, a sketch or an avatar.

The face has a terrible fascination. I'm beginning to realise that, after a certain point, the profile pic is an act of masochism mixed with vanity, territory for my pal Arthur Whatnot; but he, despite being retired, is away at a psychiatry seminar somewhere sunny. Just when I need him.


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