Sometime last decade, the New Zealand government decided to change the validity periods of our passports, from 10 years to five years. I’m not sure why – I can’t remember any strong arguments for or against it. But it’s obviously turning into a good revenue gathering exercise, because we now pay $150 for a passport twice as often. In fact, it’s more often than that, because passports aren’t actually valid for 5 years either. You can’t travel many places with a passport that expires within six months. So every 4 ½ years, I have to get a new passport. I guess it’s the price we pay for travelling on the non-threatening, easy-access-to-just-about-everywhere New Zealand passport. Of course, that means a new passport photo.
I hate having my photograph taken. I hate it with a passion. I am not photogenic – particularly if I am not allowed to smile. I know this. It’s okay, because I am not and have never been one of those women who hang their self-esteem on how they look. (Well, that might not be entirely true, as I enjoy clothes and shoes, etc. I like to feel good – I just know I’m not going to be beautiful.) Last time I renewed my passport I went and got my photo taken after going to the gym. The photograph was hideous. I guess I was still flushed from my workout, but the colouring was all wrong, and I looked like a complete lush. It cost $15. I went somewhere else and got another photo taken. It was even worse. So I used the least hideous photograph. I popped into the offices of a company I worked with, to ask a colleague to sign my application verifying it was me. He saw the photo and couldn’t stop laughing. I on the other hand wanted to cry. My previous passport photo was great. A small photography studio across the street from where I worked would take passport photos. These were the nicest passport photos you’ve ever seen! Unfortunately, the studio closed down and so I was stuck with the pharmacies or small camera shops. Hence 2008’s unsightly results. I was I think the only person in New Zealand pleased that my passport expired after only five years!
So it’s now 2012, and knowing I have to have a new passport means I know I have to get new photos taken. Oh joy. This time I decided I wasn’t going to be caught out, and specifically chose to go get my photo taken when I had not been to the gym. No longer would I feel embarrassed to hand over my passport to the numerous nameless immigration officials around the world. No longer would I look better getting off a 24 hour flight with no sleep and serious jet lag than in my passport photo. But where to go? I figured it wouldn’t matter too much. After all, I was cool, calm and collected, my hair in control, my lipstick not too bright. I was ready for this.
No, apparently I was not. The local pharmacist took the photograph. I should have known when she didn’t show it to me before she printed it that it was a disaster. I came home, clutching the four identical ghastly photographs, $15 poorer, very disheartened. On closer inspection, I doubt that the photographs would even meet the Passport Office’s specifications. What a waste of money. And what to do?
I searched on-line, looking for a photography studio that advertised passport photos. For most of them though, it’s probably just not worth the time. I saw a chain of post shops advertising passport photos – apparently with some new bells-and-whistles technology. Maybe that was the answer? I wasn’t confident. So this morning I spent a while playing around with my own camera, a tripod, and the automatic timer facility. Nope, that wasn’t working either.
So I trooped off reluctantly to the neighbouring suburb, filled with hope. (I live in hope – even when I shouldn’t!) I walked into the shop, and looked around. I couldn’t imagine getting a good photograph in the lighting there. It was old, and the walls were yellowy. I could feel my face flushing as I queued. I asked, tentatively. They reported that their system was down, and they couldn’t get the photos from the camera. (Apparently they don’t use a normal camera/camera card system.) “Try the pharmacy in the mall!” they said cheerfully. I slunk out, relieved I wasn’t getting photographed there, but disappointed that once again I had to resort to another pharmacy.
“But perhaps this pharmacy would be different?” I thought, as I entered a bright, clean store. The response when I asked about passport photos was encouraging too. “Yes,” she said, “I will show you the photos before we print them. I’ll take about four or five shots, some with glasses, some without. Then you can choose. And if they are rejected by the Passport Office, we’ll replace them free of charge.”
About five minutes later I walked out happily. No, the photographs wouldn’t make the pages of Vogue. But I don’t look like an alien with strange colouring either. I look normal. And I’m pretty sure whoever I ask to act as my identity referee won’t fall off their chair laughing at the photograph. Well, she’d better not.