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Capturing faces with the camera

By TJ Ray

“Smile please.” Well, I might have left off the “please” when I took your picture. If you are a very young person, I likely added: “Stand still.” That often doesn’t work any better than the “Smile please” does on older folks.

One of my pleasures in life is capturing faces. I also like birds and flowers, but give me a choice and I’ll take an interesting face over any subject. No worry about how they’re dressed or what they’re doing. Just let me see the face, the closer the better.

I even have a theory that when love strikes it comes because the first person finds the second person’s face adorable. And even as they age and the face wrinkles up and the hair around it fades to gray, it’s still the face that means the most.

All that is a prelude to my subject. The people I most like to capture in front of my lens are children. Not when they’re on cue and trying to look cute for the camera. When they’re just being kids.

Several years ago at the Doubledecker Festival luck struck and two captures showed up in the Lafashopper.  The little girl was doing nothing but holding the string of a pink balloon.

On that same day, I shot some kids on North Lamar at their lemonade stand near the street. Printed the pictures, took them back the next day, and left them at the door.  Never heard from them again.  And that’s okay too.

Perhaps the most tantalizing faces are those of elderly folks. Some years back, I made several trips to an Alzheimer’s meeting place and shot all the faces there. Some smiled, some looked back at me with a blank expression, all had wrinkles, and some had blurred looking eyes.

Ears on some of the gents had grown mightily. But they were downright mesmerizing.  As I looked at them on my computer monitor, I was struck by the curiosity — what did they see from their side of the lens?

The truth is that not much of life finds the display on a person’s face. And it’s not so much that what they show us is being two-faced as it is their secret. The events that shaped the wrinkles and implanted a permanent frown on their brows are their world — not mine. And the face they see in the mirror is not at all what the rest of us see.  I think sometimes that T.

S. Eliot got it right in his Prufrock piece: “There will be time, there will be time to prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet.” Possibly that is what Paul McCartney meant of poor Eleanor Rigby who “waits at the window wearing the face she keeps in a jar by the door. Who is it for?”

Perhaps St. Jerome got it right: “The face is the mirror of the mind, and eyes without speaking confess the secrets of the heart.”

So … If you see an old man point a camera at you, don’t make a face at him. You have a nice one already.

TJ Ray is a retired professor of English at Ole Miss.