The only person I knew who posed for every single photograph taken of her was my gran.
I kid you not. That woman could spot a camera at a thousand miles and would whip into complete, head-to-toe, camera-ready attitude before anyone around her could gather the wherewithal to wipe the gormless expression off their face.
At the time, it embarrassed me. Well, it would wouldn’t it?
One minute you’re an eight-year-old chatting about her latest exercise regime and the absolute necessity, for health reasons, of sprinkling wheatgerm on everything you eat, in particular your daily helping of jelly with Carnation milk – because she was always in the vanguard, my gran – the next you’re holding the hand of Marilyn Monroe.
It was quite the transformation. At sight of a camera, any camera, my gran would drop her chin and gaze seductively through her eyeleashes while turning one shoulder coquettishly. Simultaneously, she would thrust forward a hip, and turn knee and ankle, just so.
It was a signature move that was clearly years in the making, and she would do it anywhere. Every time I saw it, I died 1,000 deaths. And she had others: imagine being with my gran well she pulled the move on this page – Morecambe had never seen the like.
But back then, a photograph was a rare event. In retrospect, and from an adult perspective, it was probably the novelty of being immortalised that drove my Gran over the edge.
She had the kind of childhood that was so poverty-stricken and generally downtrodden that it sounds positively comedic in the retelling, so I think she took every chance to shine that came her way.
At least it was comedic if you enjoy tales about a family gradually demolishing every internal door, night by night, to burn on the fire to keep warm – which fortunately I do.
They used to try to leave a token bit of every door in place, to preserve boundaries, though generally it became nearer the size of a twig. Fortunately, their homes were always owned by a slum landlord, or they might have had to replace those doors instead of doing the sensible thing – a moonlight flit.
So naturally there are no childhood photographs of my gran but, in later years, when she saw a camera – she owned it, girl.
I’m not much of a camera poser myself. Just the opposite. Point a camera at me and my face freezes into expressions it has never assumed before and never will again, until the next photograph..
My husband is the same – worse actually. He always looks like, out of shot, someone is torturing him, but he is smiling manically through the pain.
I put it down to our 1970s upbringing. I put everything down to our 1970s upbringing. But in this case, I’m probably right. A camera was still a rare thing, to be brought out on special occasions. And it involved much prior planning. First you had to secure your mother’s permission to borrow the camera, then you had to find the money to buy a film.
On top of that, if you were planning to attempt an indoor picture, you needed to buy separate little cubes to sit on top of your camera, to make a flash of light at the appropriate moment. If you didn’t have those then everyone had to troop outside. And, if it was dark out there, you were sunk.
After all of that, a person’s expression was really quite preoccupied, and a carefully prepared look of spontaneous joy was low on the agenda. 1970s pictures had more of a Victorian I’ll-get-this-moment-on-record-if–it-kills-me feel to them.
Now we are in a different league, on a separate planet.
Now we all take photographs anywhere, anytime. This Christmas, it is estimated that we Brits will take 149 million family snaps.
Young things have grown up with equipment that can capture their image all around them. They are consummate image professionals – always remembering to take the picture, to look blissed out on the picture, to send the picture to Facebook and Twitter.
It’s created a whole new set of anxieties –rotating your going-out clothes so your friends don’t keep seeing the same outfit isn’t enough any more – you have to worry about whether you are wearing the same dress on every Facebook picture now.
And everyone is camera savvy. Everyone has a “look”. A group of sulky teenagers, all not talking to each other and texting on their phones, can snap into a happy, united band of sophisticated young things in a nano-second. Each of them assumes the instant cloak of their camera pose while the mobile phone is doing its job, and then they all subside back into their separate worlds the second it is over.
I admire them. It’s a much better camouflage then the 1970s one, which was to look as if the camera was stealing your soul.
As for my gran, she was born in the wrong century. God, how she would have loved the ditital age.