Face this Way

Posing. It’s confusing. For little ones, it’s best not to get them to smile and style for the lens. On our recent pumpkin patch outing, one mum – massive camera in hand – was urging her kids to “point to the cow” and “pick up a pumpkin”. She was so set on conducting a perfect shot, she missed all the moments of uncontrived, un-orchestrated cuteness from her twin toddlers. Posing really becomes a be-all-and-end-all in the pubescent years, when all the mirror-peering, primping and preening segue into a degree of self-defining in front of the camera. In our teens and 20s, posing in a photo (here’s me looking fine/ fit with my attractive, camera-comfortable friends) is an important social skill (just dip into Facebook if you need proof).

But later in life posing purposefully in pictures becomes a bit naff. That means no pouting in front of the leaning tower of Pisa or anxious angling of limbs in a beach shot. Just crack a smile and aim to look natural, is what I’ve been telling myself for years… But then, what if Washington Life magazine slings you headlong into a “fashion shoot” and someone starts telling you to turn this way, twist your shoulders and wipe your smile straight off your face? Here is their November issue on creativity in the capital (enter “54” in the black bar for the actual feature and click the right button to scroll through. Find me on page 56).

It’s just the face I’m not happy with… the photographer said “sultry” but I think I got stuck somewhere in “stiff” territory. To find some solace after seeing my sulky face, I turned to the NGA, where this Nude Warrior (c. 1816) has exactly the right idea about posing. See, he’s gone so far as to turn his face away from the camera, so he has no face placing to even worry about.

This is by Théodore Gericault (1791 – 1824) whose art typifies the spirit of Romanticism. Since he came from a wealthy family, Géricault could chart a truly independent course in art. Though he’s not touching on his usual themes of violence, horror or madness here, this “lone hero gazing into the distance” subject is totally keyed into the era. We can’t see the warrior’s face (the unknowable-ness notches up the allure and intrigue), which makes the body language total linchpin. I love the serene yet scintillating pose: parallel diagonals slash through the shot, adding energy echoed in the dark and storming sky. In fact the cast of the body is so captivating and convincing, that I bet Géricault got a model to pose.