Lynn Spruill: Passport photo epiphany


Lynn Spruill



I was going through some files not too long ago and noticed both my driver's license and passport had expired. I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised but it really didn't seem that long since I last renewed them. Fortunately I hadn't had my annual speeding ticket since the license expired but I needed to get that handled quickly.  


It is pretty easy to make the argument that the cameras in those highway patrol stations are a conspiracy to make you look like a criminal. After all if they are looking at your license, it is because you have done something wrong, right? The result wasn't too awful and in 2022 when it is time to renew again I will probably think that picture is pretty fine. 


Not too long ago I had a professional head shot made. I am not too sure why since the picture accompanying these articles came from Birney's professional hand. But nonetheless, I was pretty pleased with it. The magic of digital enhancement made 10 years or more disappear.  


I am okay with a little less reality and creative smoothing of the lines. I always fall back on the knowledge that the centerfolds get airbrushed so who am I to argue with success? The result was satisfying and I seem to recall looking a bit like that at one point in my life. No harm, no foul. 


Next came time for the passport renewal. Fortunately my passport hadn't been dormant so long that I had to go through the entire process from the beginning. The Website was simple and filling out the form wasn't particularly confusing. Last step is to attach the picture to the application.  


I pulled out that very nice resemblance that had actually been taken recently (one of the many passport requirements) and I whittled it down to size and stapled into the box provided on the application. Into to the manila envelope it went. Per the detailed instructions, it had the recently expired passport and the $140 check to keep it company. Mission accomplished. 


Not so fast; about 10 days later here it comes back again. Inside I find all the parts I had sent plus a rejection letter stating that they didn't like my proposed passport picture. Apparently it didn't meet some terrorist identification criteria. Upon further investigation it appeared that the background of my very complimentary picture was darker than allowed.  


On a whim I decided to let my fingers do the walking through the yellow pages. Wonder of wonders, I actually still had a book in my office desk drawer. Under passport there was nothing; under photography; nothing specifically addressing passport photos. I took a stab and called Walgreens. Lo and behold they do passport photos.  


The young man who pulled down the very white screen for the background was efficiently giving instructions for a successful photo. Apparently the powers that be don't want you to smile and they want a full frontal assault for the 2-inches square photo. 


Out comes his digital camera. Don't smile, face full toward me and push your hair back so your ears show. I guess we have refined dangerous characteristics since my last passport photo. Now I am stuck wondering what types of ears reflect nefarious traits?  


He showed me the picture, but unfortunately I didn't pay too much attention. After all I had just had my driver's license photo made and it couldn't possibly be any worse than that. I paid the picture taker and moseyed out to the parking lot enjoying the fall day.  


OMG. I swear I almost went back inside and told him he had given me the wrong picture. I knew I had seen that person somewhere before, but it was always out of the corner of my eye. Maybe it was an illusion from passing a mirror or a plate glass window. Now I had undeniable proof she is me. While she may not be a terrorist, she is pretty scary. 


One of the undeniable facts about long-term exposure to gravity (and the sun) is that aesthetically it does us no favors. Most mature human faces in repose aren't peaceful looking; they don't conjure up images of wisdom. They just look old and either tired, mad or sad and none of that is good.  


The animated and smiling mature face can exude character and knowledge and wisdom but being continually animated is hard work. At least I have better understanding of what Joan Rivers was thinking when she got all that filler in her face. It was just an overreaction to her passport photo.  


My next step is to find Jane Fonda's plastic surgeon. Until then I will just have to remember to think good thoughts, be animated and smile, smile, smile.



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