Monday, August 11, 2008


Smiling for Photos is Not Easy

At first I was sympathetic toward our photographer. Custom dictates that those who marry in Korea have their wedding photos taken weeks before their actual ceremony, so he probably has to deal with couples of all sizes, temperaments and capacity for smiling naturally.

It’s probably rare, however, for him to meet anyone less comfortable in front of a camera than me. When the studio he works for had dressed us up into our first batch of outfits (I referred to my first costume as “Ink,” because it included a vest of the color that I shall not name, but does rhyme with that word), he sat us on the floor beside a series of props chosen for their fluffiness and asked us to smile in a natural fashion.

In my case, he did not to know what he was asking. For me, smiling “naturally” results in an expression others confuse with seriousness, if not outright malice. He then explained to my fiancée, Catherine, what he would like me to do, and she translated it to me (“Show your teeth,” she said, “but look natural.”).

“Jim Carrey!” the photographer shouted in effort to be helpful.

With every new outfit we put on, there would be three types of poses: one where we looked merely serene, one in which we grinned and, finally, the rare combination of exposed teeth and authenticity. Catherine and I concluded that the only way for me to accomplish this was to think of something funny. Not merely amusing; it would have to be the out-loud laughing variety.

So, once we completed the first two types of poses, and as I prepared for when the photographer would shout “Beeg suhmaeel!” Catherine would talk like the Korean girls at McDonalds.

There’s a tendency among the young women who work behind the cash registers in this country’s fast food restaurants to look upon the towering nature of my foreignness with awe, and their attempts at saying the traditional Korean greetings of “Annyeung haseo!” (“Hello!”) or “Mashikeh Deuseho!” (“Enjoy your meal!”) come out in lisped form.

“Beeg suhmael!” the photographer would say, and Catherine would whisper, “Annyeung hatheo!” into my ear, thus resulting in the desired effect.

“Very good!” the photographer said.

My efforts to produce suhmaeeling … I’m sorry … smiling would have to progress along with each new outfit, however. Later, when I put on an ensemble that I called “The Conductor” because of its dark, tailed jacket I took to imagining myself with a straw in each hand, standing before an incredulous orchestra in order to amuse myself.

“Very good!” the photographer shouted.

As I began to tire and as I changed into an outfit with a black and gold coat and vest which I called “Napoleon,” my attempts at the self-inducement of mirth grew more challenging. The photographer’s pleas at smiling had little effect, as my outfit seemed more appropriate for sacking Italy than appearing jovial. The only thing that could do the trick was thinking of the joke in which the wife of a mysteriously-ill man receives explicit instructions from a doctor.

During the serene pose, I began imagining the doctor telling the woman that her husband needed to be completely cared for he if were to survive. During the grinning poses, I imagined the doctor telling her that this meant doing all his cooking and cleaning, as well as never fighting with the in-laws.

Just before the big smile pose was upon us, I imagined her, now in her husband’s hospital room, the bed-ridden man faintly inquiring as to what the doctor had told her.

“Beeg suhmael!” the photographer instructed, and I imagined the woman looking down at her husband and telling him: “He said you’re gonna die.”

“Very good!” the photographer announced.

Over time, however, he turned into a kind of antagonist, dressing us in outfits, like the traditional Korean hanbok, which lend themselves less and less to gleeful appearances. The less natural my smiling appeared, the longer he would keep us in these heavy outfits on this August afternoon, and the longer I would have to wait for food aside from water and Snickers bars.

As we passed our sixth hour of posing, I found that no inside joke or comic tale could overcome the loathing I had developed for our photographer. All was not lost, however.

“Beeg suhmael!” he announced, and I imagined him being hit in the leg with a tire iron.

“Very good!” he stated upon seeing the resulting expression.

Somehow, we got through the day with the 40-odd pictures needed to constitute the photo album that Koreans like to keep in their home after the wedding ceremony. Looking back, in many of them I have succeeded in smiling naturally, primarily in the shots where I was instructed to look at my bride to be.

When I couldn’t look at her, however, the thought of violence involving blunt objects helped me get by.

dude...thanks for taking us through your journey. hilarious. congrats!
The photos are breathtakingly beautiful. And your comments took my breath away, too - laughing!

WOW!! These are really unique and great photos. I also enjoyed reading your view of the process of taking the photos.

May God continue to bless you in all that you do.
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