Passport Photo Purgatory

This weekend Hubby and I went for passport photos.  Yikes!

If I was a customs border guard, I wouldn’t trust anybody who looked like that.  Clearly, the people in our photos are deranged criminals.  That soulless, dead-eyed stare.  Those inhumanly expressionless features.  God, they give me cold shivers.

Before, whenever I saw mug shots on the news I always wondered why they all looked like criminals.  I thought maybe it was self-fulfilling, like the child with the surname ‘Foote’ who grows up to be a podiatrist or the guy named Titzling who invented the bra (okay, that one’s an urban legend, but it makes a good story).

My point is, I thought maybe if you’re born with a face like a mug shot, you pretty well have to grow up to be a criminal.

But now I understand.  Criminals don’t actually look any different than the rest of us; it’s just that mug shots are done by passport photographers.

A proper passport photo begins with the right photographer.  It’s important to find a photographer with that precise level of sociopathy whereby he can just barely function in normal society without actually committing indictable crimes (though I’m pretty sure our photos qualify as a crime).

The photographer must be incapable of comprehending human emotion.  He is not allowed to have a sense of humour, and if he has one, it’s confiscated when he registers as a passport photographer.  He is also required to be expressionless and barely civil, ideally replicating the exact blend of arrogance and subtle threat exhibited by border guards.  This sets up the correct atmosphere for the photo.

After that, it’s all about technique.  The photographer grunts and points imperiously to a small uncomfortable stool, and the victim client perches on it as if awaiting a firing squad.

This is the photographer’s cue to make the victim client as uncomfortable and unattractive as possible:

“Chin up.  No, down.  No, up!  Look over here.  Stop smiling.”

You’d think it would be impossible to summon a smile at that point, but I’m pretty sure the only time I’ll not smile is if I’m dead (and even then I wouldn’t bet on it).  But, chastened by the photographer’s grumpiness, I try to control my obstreperous lips.

The victim client is now suitably uncomfortable, so the photographer’s next goal is ‘unattractive’:

“Put your hair behind your ears.”

“I never put my hair behind my ears.  As far as anybody else knows, I don’t even have ears.  This photo won’t look anything like me.”

“Put your hair behind your ears.  I have to see your ears.”

So I cram ten pounds of hair behind each ear, making them stick out so far that I look like a bat stalking some hapless insect.

At last I’m cranky enough to eliminate any trace of a smile, and the photographer snaps the picture with his first and only hint of visible satisfaction.

The deed is done and the woman in the photo looks as though, if she hasn’t already committed a crime, she will any minute.

No, I’m not going to post the photo.

Because… ummmm… for security reasons.  Yeah, that’s it.  It’s not because I’m totally humiliated.

It’s for security.

46 thoughts on “Passport Photo Purgatory

  1. This topic has kept me laughing all the way down the list. I had to get a passport photo once and then didn’t get to use it. So much for my world travel plans. My Papa did tho’, he traveled all over the world for construction purposes. Some for the Government , some for private industry. His passport photo and Visa’s etc, are still in a box and i look at them occasionally. Along with the 6000 pictures of every camel and Bedouin in Egypt and Arabia! His passport photo looks just like the photos of him when he had to do some slightly off the grid work between Kansas City, KS and into Kansas City, MO. He had to feed a family and did it while helping the people get around the Prohibition issue. Nuff said on that.
    The Pictures I saw of him then and the passport pictures looked a whole lot alike. Maybe it was a “practiced” look. hmmm At my age now, the only place I’d like to travel to would be to your part of the world Diane! Canada is just too beautiful to not go there. I figure that if my “Bucket List” only has one wish on it how can it not happen? LOL
    It’s late now, I’m going back to bed. (couldn’t sleep so got up and made some French Bread) I also read Book 7, again. EGADS! I just love those characters. And as another reader posted, “Ayden and John’s Combustable Moments…”) oh my! I find that I can take good comfort in re reading any and all of your stories. They simply never get old.


    • Aw, thank you! That really makes me feel good! 🙂 And I hope you’ll make it to Canada, but the hard part will be deciding where to visit. There’s so much diversity between the giant rain forests on Vancouver Island, the Rocky Mountains, the prairies (some people think they’re boring, but I love the prairies), the rocky lakes of the Canadian Shield country, the tundra of the north, the wild, beautiful shorelines of the east coast… Gee, can you tell I love this country? I’ll shut up now.

      Anyhow, I really hope you get to visit at least some of it!


  2. Okay, seriously, is there no one out there with a satellite reception joke, 10lbs of hair behind her ears. You could have picked up naked mole rats trying on Victoria Secrets, secret Naked Mole Rat line and runway show with those things. Pretty sure Diane was being modest by the way, I’d put at least 12lbs of pressure on those ear flaps.

    During heightened solar flare activity, the deflection from Diane’s ears (hair pulled back into a tight pony while gardening) have twice produced images of Uranus’ rings, images scientist continue to prostrate themselves over.


      • Bahahaha! That’s it, you boys aren’t allowed to play together anymore. Or… nah, go for it. We could all use a good laugh!

        So… Michael… Naked mole rats wearing Victoria’s Secret. Two things: a) thank you for a mental image that I can never erase; and b) I would give anything to be a fly on the wall if you had a therapy session with Dr. Freud.


        • Absolutely, bring a snack and watch as the good Doctor curls into a corner weeping and rocking back and forth citing ‘this can be real, this can’t be real’ and ‘not enough soap to ever be clean…’.

          Would it help the image if they had little housecoats on? You know though there will be one little naked mole rat flashing everyone else, wait that just might be me, okay….


          • Either curled in a corner weeping or draped artfully over the top rod in the closet. It could go either way…

            Lynn B.

            Silence is golden. Duct tape is silver…



              • Thank you! And if soap won’t do it for him, tell him it’s time to trade up to acetone and a wire brush. There are, after all, consequences to being THAT dirty. (See chapter 19, paragraph 4, second line in his own book. Doesn’t the good doctor take his own work seriously?) You’ll have to tell him. I’m not speaking to him any more.


  3. Here in ON the no smile rule applies to drivers licenses and health cards, we all look like criminals no matter which piece of ID we produce. You do not wear glasses, these too are forbidden on passports photos. Family & friends wouldn’t recognize us without glasses, I can’t even see me without them! Funny thing – we have never been asked to remove our glasses going into another country or returning to Canada!


  4. No, I’m not going to post the photo.

    Because… ummmm… for security reasons. Yeah, that’s it. It’s not because I’m totally humiliated.

    It’s for security.

    smart move for several obvious reasons


  5. Obviously – at least if I base this on your blog photo – you are used to looking good in pictures. If you were like me – and EVERY single picture taken of you belongs in the Monsters High Yearbook – you would not give a care about a passport photo!


    • Thanks for the compliment, but actually nothing could be further from the truth. I am the least photogenic person I know. My blog photo is the result of several hundred images from a professional photographer, which we rapidly narrowed down to only three acceptable ones.

      So, taking into consideration the fact that I’m accustomed to looking awful in photos, you can imagine how bad the passport photo is!


  6. The photographer should be required to tell you if your hair has partially fallen out of the “casual updo” you so painstakingly created just for the photo. Yep, my passport photo looks like the back of my hair was cut by a hyperactive 5 year-old. On the rare occasions I look at my passport, I wonder if the photographer actually thought that was my normal “look.”


    • Oh, too funny! But like I said: Passport photographers aren’t allowed to have any grasp of normal human emotion. He was probably delighted to see that you’d helped him along with his goal to make you look as bad as possible. 😉


  7. You totally drilled it. I haven’t been what you’d call photogenic since I was six, but I generally don’t scare children. Well, hardly ever. But my passport picture makes me look like one those guys in those dreadful news reports about whom the neighbors always say, “Well, he always kept to himself, but he seemed to be such a nice guy…”

    The picture of my wife I always carry with me is her college freshman photo. It was taken decades ago, but she’s changed so little in my eyes that I see no need to carry a newer one. I mentioned one day that I thought the picture was so good of her that I would use it for her obituary photo if she went first. She never batted an eye. Quoth she, “Promise me RIGHT NOW that you won’t do that, or I’ll use your PASSPORT PHOTO for yours!”



  8. Dear Diane, As a person who has lived in 13 different countries in the past 20 years, I am familiar with the “passport hassle”. We always joked, “if you actually look like your passport photo, you are probably too sick to travel”!! Keep smilin’, Duane.



    • LOL! That’s the truth! And wow, that’s a lot of countries. Do you actually enjoy moving around that much? I guess you must be an old hand at border crossings and passports. I still feel unaccountably guilty every time I pass through customs.

      Thanks for the encouragement – you keep smiling, too! (Unless you’re not allowed to because of the passport hassle…) 😉


  9. So, so true. The last time we got our passports renewed, they told us we were no longer allowed to smile for the photo. My entire family looks like a family of serial killers. Plus, it’s like they require the worst lighting ever. Luckily, we didn’t have such a militant photographer (our pics were complements of the drugstore passport photo service), but we did get some good belly laughs from comparing each others photos. Talk about scary.


    • I pondered for the longest time over the “no smiling” rule. I couldn’t understand why they would intentionally take a photo that made me look as little like my normal self as possible. I finally decided it was for their own convenience in identifying my body if I died somewhere on the trip – this photo looks enough like a corpse to match perfectly.


  10. The next part of the passport humiliation comes when you actually have to use it for traveling. Only one of 2 things can happen — either the person checking your passport looks at it and looks at you and waives you on through (yikes, it really is a good likeness) or he or she looks at it, looks at you and decides you’re not the person in the photo (so much for traveling). Thus, the birth of the “staycation.”


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