I HAVE enjoyed studying a picture that reached me via social media this week of a man who has been photographed every year for the past 40 years. At first glance it looks almost like a ‘spot the difference’ collage.
Indeed, each of the 40 portraits is identical in its pose but the man’s facial features gradually acquire that unstoppable double whammy of downward and outward stretch that comes with maturity. Put it like this, the springy elasticity of youth becomes less and less apparent.
This chap, a teacher of history, I believe, in the Midlands, started the portraiture habit when he was a fresh-faced newcomer to the classroom, presumably in his early 20s. Now, aged 60-odd, he is grey of hair and droopy of eye and neck, but still recognisable if you look carefully.
However, the remarkable thing about these portraits is that in every single one he is wearing the same outfit: an open-necked shirt and a brown sleeveless V-neck. It’s a classic school-teachery look: neat, tidy, not making a statement (other than ‘do call me Mr Dullsville’) and unchallenging.
He was clean-shaven in Year 1, but by Year 2 was sporting a moustache. It hints at trendy droopiness for two or three years, and even takes on a worrying Hitleresque brevity at one point, but in general it’s just a neat and tidy top-lip overcoat.
In the most recent photo it is hard to make out but I think the moustache has gone. My theory? A fussy grandchild complaining that it prickles when they have a hug, so he’s done the dutiful thing and shaved it off. That way he won’t be remembered as the Grandpa none of them wanted to get too close to. It happens.
The glasses, present in all photos, are monumentally large-framed to start with – on a sort of David Vine scale – but they get smaller in line with speccy-trends and, after a predictably dull rimless phase, are now neat rectangles.
The hairstyle also gives a clue that we are not in the presence of a trailblazer. It’s just dark hair, neatly cut, and by about Year 20 it is showing signs of receding.
A side parting, too close to his left ear for comfort, becomes more evident as the locks become less abundant. Currently, there are some grey waves going on, lending a distinguished bank manager-ish, golf club member-ish, air.
He certainly looks a very dependable sort of chap. Brooks no nonsense, I bet, and sees nothing wrong in favouring the same uniform of respectable blandness every year of his working life.
Am I being critical? Absolutely not. I rather admire him for his single-minded pursuit – and triumphant capture – of the essence of bland. School pupils don’t necessarily want or need ‘bags-of-character’ teachers making ‘look-at-me’ statements about themselves.
Our man’s photos present a sharp contrast with the recollections I have of my English teacher, who I swear was the double of Carmen Miranda.
She had a mass of red curls piled on her head, a smudgy slash of red lipstick, tottering stilettos and swishy, full-skirted dresses whose low-cut fronts gave her easy access to her handkerchief, which she would pull out with a flourish. We admired her, of course, for her pizzazz. She was exciting and different, but we didn’t take her nearly as seriously or learn half as much from her as her successor, who was, now I think about it, a (vaguely) female version of our man of the 40 faces.
There’s a lesson there, I’d say.