Not a pretty pass – An Irishman’s Diary about the horrors of getting a new passport picture
“You can expect to have only five, six, or maybe seven passports in adult life – a maximum one for each of the ages of man, as Shakespeare defined them.” Photograph: Alan Betson
The good thing, if there was one, about losing my passport abroad recently, is that the loss occurred half-way through the document’s 10-year life. This at least ought to have eased the trauma of applying for a new one, reducing the usual intimations of mortality by 50 per cent.
Even in middle age, when most units of time have shrunk dramatically compared with the ones you remember from youth, a decade remains a substantial period.
Reminders of your ultimate destination aside, there is also a related horror of the passport photograph – having to compare yourself now, as depicted in the harsh light of a railway station photo booth, with what you looked like 10 years ago.
Anyway, for those reasons, and enforced as it was, my latest passport application should have been only half as disturbing as usual.
But, well, it so happens that the 2016 application coincides with a period when, after 30 years of wearing glasses, I am undergoing trials for laser eye surgery. This has involved temporary use of contact lenses, “monovision” lenses at that, whereby one eye is corrected for distance and the other for reading.
In the meantime, unfortunately, I am still at the stage of feeling a bit weird, and naked, in my un-bespectacled state. And even at the best of times, I can struggle to achieve a relaxed facial expression for the camera.
So in the photo booth the other day, between staring at an unrecognisable figure in the mirror, and being warned by a humourless automated voice not to smile, blink, make faces, or do any of the other things that would disqualify the result from passport use, I was even more than usually tense.
Consequently, when they first €6 worth of pictures was printed, they made me look, not so much like a deer in car headlights, as the same deer, after the accident, and mounted on a wall plaque.
Passports as we know them, by the way, are barely a century old. They were yet another consequence of the first World War. And as introduced in the 1920s, when they included verbal descriptions of a person’s appearance, many people found them “dehumanising”.
I sensed what this felt like in a Strasbourg police station last month, while reporting my passport’s possible theft. For some reason, the officer had to give a physical description of me, including an estimate of my weight, or “corpulence”, as they say in French.
He accompanied the word by giving me a quick look-over. And it was disconcerting to have my corpulence thus assessed, even if he declared it “normale” .
In like vein, I also deplore the loss of the relative youth I enjoyed in my previous passport photo.
And I deplore having to live with the consequences of the new picture for 10 years. Even so, I’ll get used to it. There may even come a time when that likeness too is a cause for nostalgia, after the ultimate thief has made off with it.