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Who is that person in the photo?

September 28, 2010

I’ve often mocked elected officials, appointed leaders, celebrities and other public figures when they insist on using dated head shots in published materials.
Now that the shoe is on my foot, I’m a little less inclined to rush to judgment.
How many times have you picked up a newspaper to see a photograph of a public figure that was several years old? We, in the newspaper business, call these head-and-shoulder photos “mugs” or “mug shots,” and at any given time we have hundreds on file. That’s not to say, however, that we have hundreds of current photos on file, but our library of computer files and hard photos are filled with pictures of lawmakers, company officials, columnists, school superintendents, government managers and plenty of other folks.
And a lot of those pictures are more than a few years old.
In this digital age, capturing new photographs are one of the easiest — and possibly the cheapest — things to do. Yet, whenever there is a column or news article about one of these folks, it seems that we, in the newspaper industry, publish “moldy oldy” photos. Here, a man’s photo features a full head of hair, while in real life, his scalp is a little more skin-tone. There, a woman has short hair, even though the last time we saw her, she had long hair. Young faces get older, in real life, but their pictures never age, while dark hair never grays in our “mug shot” files.
Often those photographs are submitted to newspapers, like The Observer News Enterprise, by the individuals themselves. In many cases, once a person is elected or appointed to a position, or they submit an initial photo, they’ll never send another one, leaving us no choice but to publish the photo year after year. In other cases, the newspaper is to blame — I admit I’ve accidentally placed an older mug shot photo when a more current version has been available. I’m sorry if that made someone look younger than they really are.
Regardless of the cause, I’ve often laughed when I see an old photo published for someone who has grown older, balder, fatter, or just plain different. I laughed, that is, until I realized that I am one of those people clinging to an old photograph and self images from my youth.
That’s right, take a quick look at my mug shot included with this column. I admit it isn’t exactly current. Since it was taken, probably three years ago or so, I have lost weight – as much as 20 pounds. I have lost hair -- a countless quantity of follicles have just fallen away. Even the sign behind my head has changed.
Yet, every week my column publishes, readers get to see the same old picture of me standing outside The O-N-E building. And while friends, family and even my boss has encouraged me to get a new column photo, some how, some way, I never can … find time to do it.
As a result, I am no better than the “ageless” politician, whose official photograph never changes. At the same time, though, I have a better understanding of why these folks cling tightly to the use of old photos. Simply put, these photos are an easy way for us to hang on to our youth. In my mug shot, I may look fatter than I am today, but I also look younger. I have more hair, and the hair I have in the picture looks pretty good, too. I like the way the light captures the gleam in my smile, and heck that’s a pretty good smile. All in all, it’s a good photo, and yes it may not be exactly what I look like today, but I like it.
Alas, it is not representative of the “real” me in 2010, and as a result, by hiding from the camera today, I am not better than the politician who clings to a 10-year-old image of themselves.
With that in mind, the last thing I want to be included in a group of folks afraid of seeing their current photos in newspaper. So with a little urging from my boss, my wife and my co-workers I am resolving to capture a new photo for this column. That is, if I can ever find the time and the photographer to take my picture. Does anybody have a camera?

Michael Willard is the publisher of and a columnist for The Observer News Enterprise. His column appears in the weekend edition.

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