Why Your Photo ID Must Frighten the Locals

Your one eye is closed just enough to give you a vague, Popeye-esque aura.

Your hair--which you're sure was in place when you'd arrived-- has managed to spring aloft, in a fine Gorgonian tradition, like lethargic, yet mildly curious snakes.

But only on one side.

A zit has appeared from nowhere to perch in the center of your forehead, a red pustulant beacon to the inevitable.

Your lipstick, which had been glossy in prime Angelina Jolie fashion (male readers, just go with me on this one), is now smeared and crooked, causing you to look less "Sexy Single" and more "Septegenarian Recovering from Severe Stroke."

Yet this-- THIS is what has been immortalized on your passport. The legal document used to identify you to the world for the next decade. This is on your driver's license, that everyday identification you will share with people in the places you patronize, to give them something to laugh about in the break room.

How does this happen?

Well, it's a little-discussed axiom I'd like to call the "Queuing Personal Degeneration Principle."

You see, what most folks don't realize is this:

  • The photo is not designed to show you.
  • It's designed to give a realistic depiction of what you will look like after you have traveled thousands of miles, sitting in the center seat of a plane the size of a tuna can, with a 400 pound man snoring lightly on your shoulder with scotch-and-peanut breath.
  • It is the projected visual estimation of how you will appear after you've waited in the airport for an extra three hours only to learn your flight has been canceled and now they're sending you to Vancouver via a brief stopover in scenic Greenland.
  • It is the view the police officer will get of you the moment you roll down your window and he says, "License and registration, please?"
  • It is the most accurate way to ensure you are who you say you are, and Make Our World A Safer Place.

And while you might think these photo-takers in the post office and Driver's License Renewal Center are just slap-dash amateurs paid too-little to embrace the joys of working with the vain and surly public, this is also a common myth.

In fact, these individuals are artisans, highly-trained to uncover just the most perfect, most uncomfortable position in which to seat you, to get the optimum photo results. To light you such a way that that emerging pimple stands proud...

That once-tempered hair showcases its wild side...

That glossy mouth slides its southernmost.

They are trained in the the art of One-Shot Hideous Masterpieces.

It's exactly like painting the picture of Dorian Gray. Only, y'know, with film and stuff.

So remember, friends--

The next time you sit in the Post Office on the hard stool in front of the poorly-lit white screen that brings out the circles under your eyes...

And the Postmaster/Photographic Expert before you asks you to sit up straighter...

No, straighter...

Now stick your neck out...

Now tilt your head to the left, no, the other left...

Then lowers the camera long enough so you blink and yawn and he can snap the picture...

Well, remember, this is not Glamour Shots.

This is For the Good of International Security. Feel glad. You're doing your country proud!


Questionne du jour:
Are you happy with your license and/or passport photo? Has it ever scared small children or, say, liquor store clerks?



DeadRooster said...

If I manage to get a REALLY bad drivers license photo, it is inevitable that I will get the automatic renewal for the next 10 years (or until the photo actually looks better than my actual aged face).

My drivers license currently shows me from 8 years ago with a really stupid mustache. I look like Snidely Whiplash.

JD at I Do Things said...

I always look weirdly combative in my driver's license (and other) photos because (1) I'm shoving my jaw forward so my double chin doesn't show and (2) I'm opening my eyes super wide to avoid blinking/half-open eye problem.

When I show the photo to people, they're always like, What is your PROBLEM?

Michael Rivers said...

I've been lucky to have a few very good driver's license photos. My current one isn't too bad. My passport photo was taken at the beginning of this year. It turned out well--except I look SO serious. Like a convict. Actually, the passport photographer told me they WANT you to look like a convict because new security measures scan your image against all mug shuts (or something like that). He told me not to smile because people in mug shots are rarely smiling. I did as I was told.

Jenn Thorson said...

Rooster- I'm trying to imagine you with a mustache.... Was it a thin Clark Gable type or a Magnum PI/Earl Hickey sort of 'stache? :)

JD- Well, sure because they want you to keep your head up. And that showcases any jawline issue- which of course most people have! I have this giant round face. Like a big ol Moon Pie. So it's a terrible look for me. It's like Humpty Dumpty on a wall.

Michael- I was reprimanded not to smile, but I had no idea they would scan us against mugshots! Thanks for the info Michael. Though I imagine I'll be in trouble. Surely I'll be a match for some aging convicted angry crackhead out there.

Karen said...

I tend to smirk and instead of one chin I have 2 or even sometimes 3. Then of course there's the drunken-eyeball syndrome and my apparent total lack of eyebrows, despite coloring them in (aggressively) mere moments before. I'm afraid I would get hits on multiple mug shots.

Jenn Thorson said...

Karen- I understand your pain! :) I suppose it's good you didn't accidentally smear your colored-in eyebrows due to a poorly-timed fly landing or something.

We have to be grateful for the little things when it comes to ID photos.

itsmecissy said...

My passport photo isn't too bad since I had it taken at Costco. The driver's license? Not so much. Then again, I've never had a good driver's license photo. Maybe they should take those at Costco too.

Jenn Thorson said...

Cissy- You know, it's pretty cool that Costco even does them! I've had a lot better chances with my driver's license photo than this passport thing. Must be the soft mood lighting of our DMV. :)

Le-Chat said...

Two weeks ago I had to have my picture taken just for a company pass. Something before taken care of by internal services - my old department - so a befriended co-worker would have taken the photo. But things have changed. I had to go to an official place and the photo had to be taken according to new European Community passport or ID rules. So no smiling etc. etc. It made me wonder why I couldn't just send in the official ID photo I had taken only less than a year ago. They gave me enough spare prints and it was as ugly as the new one and would have saved my employer the costs and me my time :D

Jenn Thorson said...

Le Chat- Ah, don't ya just love bureaucracy? Hope you've been doing well-- besides the unfortunate photo opps, that is. :)

TJ Lubrano said...

Aaah I totally hate my passport/drivers license picture. This happened ever since they changed the specifications. You can't smile, your hair should be tucked behind your ears, cause...they want to see your ears.
And its simply stupid, cause it's not like they ask you "Okay madam, now stop smiling, look like you're stoned and put your hair back', we have to ID you."

Also you have to face the camera and not tilting your head. It looks like a mug shot o_O! I hate it! Funny thing...I need new photos -_-''

This was really brilliantly written, as usual ^_^! Ciao *waves*

ReformingGeek said...

My driver's license photo must have been taken by an incompetent photographer. I like it. Then I changed my hairstyle.

Hubby looks like Pancho Villa.

Oh well.

Jenn Thorson said...

TJ- Yes, really, I mean WHO goes through customs with their hair tucked behind their ears? And it does EXACTLY look like a mugshot. Only without the heights printed on the screen in back of us. :)

ReformingGeek- Actually, the DMV is better about it than the passport folks are because they will let you have more than one shot. ... Heh, poor Hubbie. :)

Claire said...

As you know, I absolutely love having my photo taken......

I was forced at gunpoint to get my passport photo done, okay not exactly gunpoint, but I wasn't allowed out of the booth until I had taken some.

It was two weeks before I was going abroad and I had been extremely resistant, so I was strong armed into the booth. The photo reflects this painful moment.

I also match the background, as it was nearly as white as me, lol :)

So yeah I hate the bloody thing.

Deray said...

My American Visas photos are the worse pictures of me ever. I have 2 of them that's why the plural.

My tourist visa shows my lazy eye as it was when I was 5 years old, I don't know how they managed to do that. My student visa is such a close up that you can count my pores! It's horrendous.

My DMV ID, on the other hand, is quite good as I have my usual big smile *grin*.

Walter said...

Interesting, I thought they are having problems with their technology. Still, its not pleasing to see yourself that way. :-)

Anonymous said...

Funny thing is, I always look like my ID photo, even at my best. I'm considering a brown paper bag with holes cut out for my eyes to look through. Yeah, I'd totally wear that for, like, ever... just so that can be my ID photo instead!

Jenn Thorson said...

Claire- So I'm imagining your expression is one of black fizzling loathing? :)

Deray- We always see you smiling in your avatar pics, so I can imagine having to NOT smile, no one would even recognize you!!

Walt- The reality of it all for me is terrifying. :)

Tony- Well, as long as the bag isn't smiling, and they can see your ears, it's probably okay. :)

Claire said...


or constipation.... lol