Here’s a tip for when you next find yourself facing a camera: think before you strike a pose. This advice popped into My New Old Head when I saw the last white president of South Africa, aged 77, posing for a media campaign called 21 Icons. Barefoot and wearing a suit and tie, he allowed himself to be photographed sitting on a mountain in a rather pathetic attempt at the lotus position.
Former apartheid regime leader FW AKA FW de Klerk (reportedly known by his initials since childhood) got in on Nelson Mandela’s Nobel Prize for ending apartheid 20 years ago and now he’s posing – pardon the pun – as one of South Africa’s official icons.
Who anointed or appointed these icons? An Australian FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) sufferer named Adrian Steirn who says he saw a documentary on Muhammed Ali at the peak of his boxing career and thought: “As a photographer, I wished I was there to photograph him.” Steirn also wished he could be in South Africa photographing Mandela. To that end he enlisted a Mandela family faction and some heavyweight South African sponsors: Mercedes-Benz, Nikon, Deloitte, The Sunday Times, the failed state-run broadcaster and its Arts and Culture department. Plus an agency named after the Chinese Gingko tree, used to make a herbal supplement that does not combat memory loss which purports not to advertise or promote but to “craft engaging cinematic and photographic narratives for those who require a compelling voice in communicating to a global audience”.
The 21 Icons project has been rolling out its iconic selections weekly. In case you missed the publicity, no prizes for guessing South African Icon Numero Uno. Steirn’s photo of the icon of all icons is the result of handing him a mirror and directing him to “look into it as if reflecting on his life”. Makes you yearn for the old days, when the cheesiest it got was Mandela posing with the Spice Girls.
The next free “collectible” poster to tumble out of the Sunday paper was of the old Afrikaner doing yoga al fresco. Which brings us back to the introductory caution on how to respond, in your later years, when cameras are pointed at you.
The minute that Australian papparazo suggested that 77-year-old de Klerk take his shoes off, he surely didn’t need a Mr Fix-it for the Rich and Famous to tell him that this photo shoot had the potential to go embarrassingly bad. For all his shrewd judgment during the ending of apartheid, de Klerk is at a loss to explain how he was persuaded to strike the pose he now describes as “against my nature”.
There’s a lesson here, about older people preserving their dignity, especially when their image is about to be digitally preserved. There’s also a lesson about how, as we age, it’s not just females who may be well advised to keep their knees together, especially at picture-taking time.
Back to those weirdly posed collectibles. Among them is a third Nobel-laureate. Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu’s photo shows him “dancing with a tutu as he shares his experiences”, according to Steirn – this pose chosen because “the world needs another Tutu”.
If the Bish is as able to maintain his dignity with a tutu as he is wearing his purple church frocks, it’s because of, not despite, this icon’s advancing years. As for the rest of us non-iconic older people, we’d do well to beware of persuasive photographers and be aware of how we pose for them.