"I need to send a photographer around today to get this photo for your new column," she says.
"I've already got a photo, just send a bike for it."
"Ah," she says, "is it colour?"
"No, it's black and white."
"Well, all the new photos have to be in colour, so we can't use it."
Colour? What does she mean? Nobody said anything about colour. I'm trapped. She wants a colour photo and mine is... a fabulous picture, by an equally fabulous photographer. Blurry, arty, moody, punchy. Two black holes where the eyes should be: a death's head. Nice shirt, too. Kind of voodoo Vogue Hommes, that timeless Fashion Zombie story. (Undead is such a good look for me, it suits my complexion and lifestyle: simple and understated for the office, yet easily accessorised for evening wear.) The cadaverous portrait lies on the floor, darkened sockets glaring, defiant, urging me not to compromise. But it's black and white. They want colour. Time to press the hyperspace button.
"I have to discuss this tomorrow with the Saturday editor," I say, hoping to fob her off. Five minutes later, the Saturday editor is on the line, pointing out - not in so many words, unmistakably - that I might want to get a life, and fast. Unless I want to be decommissioned.
I whine and whinge: I need a haircut, a shave, a good night's sleep. But all to no avail. Cornered at last, after weeks of ducking and diving. The photographer will arrive at 4pm to document my irreversible decline. "If you want to visit a visage-iste before that, feel free," says the Saturday editor.
I can cite countless arguments against having a photo-byline, but the first that springs to mind is the aesthetic one. Take a good look at some photo-bylines. They all fall into three broad categories.
Category One writers look hesitant, frightened, or disturbed: apprehension lurks in their gaze. This is a look you will have seen before, in the eyes of a pet hamster or some other small animal which lived in dread, dependent on your indulgence for its survival.
Category Two writers appear to have had all trace of personality airbrushed out, and their weak smiles seem computer-generated. No matter how forceful their rhetoric, the work is deflated by the rigidity and blandness of image. The worst resemble cryogenics experiments gone wrong.
Category Three writers are easiest to spot: cocky, smirking know-it-alls, people who believe their own press. Unfortunately, if you don't take the photo session seriously, you can fall into this group by default, in the same way that a smug bastard columnist, experiencing a rare moment of conscious insecurity before the camera, may end up in Category One.
These are the options. Which is why, photographically speaking, I'd rather be dead.
One might argue that wanting to remain invisible is just as vain as wanting to be seen. My reluctance stems from cowardice and expedience. Invisibility makes it so much easier to be heroic. Unseen, I could take diabolical liberties and give till it hurts, then give and take some more. Unknown, I moved among people unnoticed. But even in the tiniest doses, celebrity erodes this privilege. So the idea of my picture on this column makes me feel exposed and compromised. Not to mention sick.
It also makes me a target - for disgruntled readers, those I write about, and worst of all, my colleagues in the press. Stick your head above the trenches and sooner or later someone will take a shot. Look at the personal flak Suzanne Moore got from Germaine Greer last month. The luxury of visual anonymity is not one to give up lightly.
Some people thrive on this kind of thing, but I'm a scaredy-cat. I don't want to get into a mudslinging match with another columnist, but I reckon it's only a matter of time. Just the other day I was accosted at a party by an ex-junkie hack. "You're so full of shit," she informed me, apropos of nothing. "You really believe that crap you write about yourself." Alright, so I did screw her once and never call her again, but that was in 1982. Talk about bearing a grudge.
And once it starts, there is an overwhelming urge to defend yourself, to retaliate. That's how you get sucked into the bullshit. Next thing you know, you wake up on some dreary late-night discussion programme, droning on about how boring you found the novel/film/play/TV programme in question. Real radical stuff like that.
But most of all, I'm frightened because, deep in my bones, I know I've got it coming. After bitching about others for so long, sniping at their best efforts, my turn is due. Study my photograph carefully, and you'll see that I'm gritting my teeth. Behind those shades my eyes are shut tight.
Smirking? No, I'm flinching, in anticipation of the blow that will surely fall.Reuse content