A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

passport to beauty: posing for photos in Damascus

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on December 4, 2006

Having spent so much time overseas in the past few years, I rarely find myself in a position to be able to offer practical advice to those who live in the states. recently, though, I was delighted to be able to tell an acquaintance that it is possible to get passport photos taken at any Kinko’s.

Possible, yes – but telling him this reminded me of just how much … less … the experience of getting one’s passport photos taken in the states is.

In Damascus and in Beirut there are twenty million uses for passport-size photos: visa applications, visa documentation, gym id, university id, institute id, … sometimes I imagine maps of each city with pushpins all over, marking the locations that have a photo of me.

Luckily, however, photos are quite inexpensive, at least in Syria, so whenevery I am there I try to visit a photography shop. My favorite is a glossy magasin on Maysaloun Street, where the latest digital cameras are proudly displayed on the main floor. The photography studio is on the second floor (which in Damascus is sometimes called the first floor, courtesy of the French influence; the co-existence of two floor numbering systems often means, at least for me, taking the stairs rather than the elevator in order to inspect each potential floor for the presence of my intended destination).

The first time I went there, I was on my way home from a hard day of work (hard by academics’ standards: lots of reading and note-taking, requiring massive amounts of cogitation, digestion, and reflection). My outfit was wrinkled; my hair was in a messy bun. I was wearing glasses and no makeup.

After introducing myself to the photographer, I sat down on the stool and waited for him to begin. He looked up at me in dismay and said: please. There is a mirror just outside. Let me show you. Oh no, I said – its fine. These are just for ids, not for display. He protested; I demurred.

Finally he sighed and took several rounds of photos. Please, he said, come see these. I stood up and went to the screen where each photo was displayed as a thumbnail. I looked just as described: unkempt and messy after a day in the library.

Now, he said, you see. Please, go to the mirror. There are brushes and other things. I will wait and we will retake these.

I went to the mirror and saw the brushes and hair products laid out there. I brought out my own brush … some lipstick … took off the glasses … returned to the studio and smiled.

The photos from that day were so lovely that whenever I handed them to one of Damascus’ many id bureaucrats they would comment on how beautiful I looked (which beauty was usually unmatched by my in-person appearance). Luckily I do have a copy – a large 5 x 7 that the photographer gave me for a souvenir. It makes me smile whenever I remember, thinking once again of the differences between cultures that welcome public appearances in one’s sweat-pants, and those for which a ‘public face’ is very much a part of the public good.


3 Responses to “passport to beauty: posing for photos in Damascus”

  1. Med said

    I loved this article!

  2. intlxpatr said

    Oh Little Diamond, that made me laugh out loud. I might have to blog on my own experiences – so many photos, so many id’s. This was very funny, I could hear your “voice” even as I read it.

  3. I have a funny Jordanian id photos story, too – I will write about it tomorrow, after I find a continental fiche (plug) for my computer. I forget that not every country here is like Lebanon, where electrical outlets often take both European and American plugs!

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