I need a picture of myself for an official card. Because I am in a hurry but as I don´t feel like running to the next automaton in the busy subway and sit in it alone while people hush beside to their jobs, I decide to enter an old photographer´s shop in one of Lisbon´s poshest avenues.
The old man escorts me to the room where “it” will happen and gives me a moment to prepare. Suddenly I feel like an actress, I sit before the mirror framed with lights, where make up and brushes are lying around in a small table and think how purposeless it is to prepare; I always look pretty awful in every goddamn picture.
I sit where he tells me to and follow his instructions, head slightly pending to the side, chin up, strait back and looking into a designated fixed point. I think of K. always telling me to smile for photos. Despite the usual result I always enjoy when others take my photo, specially if unexpectedly. I have the theory that if someone likes you as a person this will somehow shine through the picture they take of you. For me it works like a scale. The people that loved me the best have taken the best photos of me.
Surprisingly, we only need one round this time. Usually it takes a lot longer, because I always shut my eyes or look as if I am not right in the head! The old photographer smiles and calls me up to see the result. He is happy with it. And so am I. Though I look so retro. We exchange approving looks and he hushes out of the room to print it meanwhile I collect my things. How interesting that a photo made just seconds ago can look so dated!
While I wait upstairs, I look at old photos from unknown people of every age filling the walls. Black and white photographs, color photographs, families in their best Sunday suits posing, people marrying, children posing, twins, mothers and daughters, people in love. They all belong to a different epoch, I think to myself. The store looks very old and not renovated. I think of digital cameras and computers, it´s obvious that business has seen better days. Albums that no one buys and very old analogue cameras are still available for sale.
I feel sorry for the lovely man. I want to tell him that it is all about PR, that he should advertise his services as purposely retro and traditional in an age where everything happens so fast and has no meaning any more. He is part of the story of the city, he has been registering generations of Portuguese people with his art.
It´s pure poetry, all those faces immortalized in time, seeking to grab a piece of eternity, leave something to be remembered for to the people that love them.
In the end he thanks “the model”, he looks very happy with my photo, and I thank the photographer, and he thanks me again, and I thank the photographer once more. (Goodbyes always take very long between Portuguese). I leave sad, because I know that his son wont pick up his business, he is one of a last kind.