Portraits | Mexico | Living in Mexico

Portraits

Having your portrait made was serious business in the 19th Century. Photographers didn't ask you to smile. If you did, it would ruin the photo. This wedding photo, taken somewhere in Mexico of someone's great-great grandparents, is typical.

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They don't look like a happy couple, do they? My great-great grandparents look just as serious as these people, in our old family photos.

By the time I was born, fashion had changed. I remember a photographer who actually held a mechanical bird over the lens of his view camera to make me smile.

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"Watch the birdie!" Twitter, twitter.

(That's a genuine WWII cotton shirt, held together at the neck with a safety pin. Thanks, Mom.)

Modern Mexican people relax for informal snapshots just like gringos. But many still treat portrait-taking as solemn occasions. Getting a smile out of Teresa, here rigidly posing in her new school uniform, required ingenuity and the intervention of a Boston Terrier.

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I was reminded of the lingering Mexican propensity for grave expressions in portraits when I saw this display of the Management Team in our new Office Depot:

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Look like mug shots, don't they. The grim expressions are bad enough; the institutional blue shirts and name tags just make things worse. Had their shirts been khaki, these photos could just as well have been taken at the county jail, just down the road from Office Max.

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