I’ve never really liked smiling in photographs. I always have, because I feel that it is somehow expected of me, but at the same time, I have always liked best the photographs in which I am not smiling.
It’s not that I don’t like to smile, or see other people smile. A smile shows that you are happy, at ease, and friendly. But in regards to pictures, if you are taking a picture in order to capture the physical person, shouldn’t it also be the aim to capture the emotional person as well? You see, I personally believe that smiling in a picture distracts from the things that can give the best clues about a person’s inner nature: the eyes. I am a true believer in the thought that the eyes are the windows to the soul. They can betray even our most private secrets.
This thought is perfectly illustrated in the famous photo of Marilyn Monroe by Richard Avedon:
Now look at this one by Andre de Dienes:
Yes, both pictures are lovely, and show completely different sides of Marilyn, but in my opinion, Avedon’s picture exposes something extremely personal about Marilyn that de Dienes’ photo does not. De Dienes’ photo shows a fresher, brighter take on Marilyn. She looks healthy, glowing and connects wonderfully with the camera, and yet, it lacks a distinct image of her inner self. This is what Avedon’s photo has. When the smile is removed, there is no pretense. There is only Marilyn, staring off into space. Avedon’s photo is special because your eyes go straight to Marilyn’s. They are truly the main focus of the photo and because of that, we are not distracted by any brilliant smile or perfectly arched brows. We simply see the woman, the pain, the ambivalence, the loneliness. At least that’s what I see when I look at Avedon’s photo.
What I think what this whole study boils down to is the thought that while a smile can outwardly say so much about us, for example, that we are friendly and open, it can also hide many inward emotions. It hides by distracting, by drawing attention to the opposite end of the face as the eyes, which could potentially reveal everything, even things we might not want people to see.
So, is it fair to say that smiling in a photo is a defense mechanism? I believe in some cases it may be. Of course there are instances where a smile is real, where it matches what the eyes say as well, but then there are instances where I’m sure the smile is used to hide.
I know people who always smile in photos, no matter what. I have also known people who refuse to smile. My great grandmother was one of them. Even in her engagement photo she did not smile. But then again, she was quite a confident woman, and she probably understood that you can see everything you need to see through the eyes. So she never smiled in photographs. What became of that was a collection of photos that showed her when she was happy, when she was sad, and everything in between. Because she never smiled, the pictures that remain of her show the real her, every side of her, because she let the camera focus on her eyes, and into her soul.