When I asked you to take off
+++++your neon orange trucker hat
to sit for a photo between two trees,
+++++I did feel embarrassed for you,

awkward to have tasked myself
+++++with slightly undressing a friend.
I could tell by your open mouth
+++++that you were genuinely distracted,

awaiting the first shot. Your sundress
+++++pooled around your knees in the grass,
and you poked at ants.
+++++It didn’t suit you,

posing, or being posed.
+++++Everything, your expression said,
was out of place,
+++++was not itself, was fragile

against sturdy oak trunks.
+++++It was a lie.
Exactly what I wanted
+++++to capture.


Click here to read Nick Zelle on the origin of the poem.

Image: Public domain, Female in white dress standing on grass, Unsplash, licensed under CC 2.0.

Nick Zelle:
I often hate posing in photos. Especially when I was child, the task of sitting for a photo was a chore that made me squirm. I suppose I saw photos as a tradeoff that I had to negotiate between my self-consciousness and the desires of whomever was taking it. A favorite line that illustrates this was spoken by my grandmother, who, when I kept failing to smile, to keep my eyes open, and to sit still for a portrait, once famously said with a straight face: “Nick, if you ruin this picture, I’ll ruin you.” I don’t remember if that made me laugh, but she managed to click the shutter at the precise moment to catch me in a smile, whether genuine or forced. In photos of myself, I could perceive a discrepancy between how it presented me and how I experience myself internally, which could feel upsetting. I suspect this is not unique.

In the case of this poem, the speaker is the photographer, and I am on the more active side of the arrangement, doing the careful, yet somehow indecent work of framing and composing my subject to my liking. I came across this image a decade after we took it, and was interested the paradox of manufactured candidness and the power dynamic this implied.

Nick Zelle
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