If the dictionary definition of “camera-shy” had an accompanying example, it should be my recently deceased friend Doug. Once, I found an old point and shoot camera that still had a few frames of film left inside of it. I reflexively pointed the camera at Doug and tripped the shutter. He put up a huge fuss. I tried snapping a picture of his younger brother, but he responded by turning his back when I pressed the shutter button. The brother’s fear or hatred was less severe than Doug’s though. It took awhile to regain Doug’s comfort around my habit of always carrying a 35mm camera wherever I went.
I was curious as to how Doug, and to a lesser extent his brother, developed their strong dislike of being photographed. I asked a few of their siblings and their mother. None of them could point to any traumatic encounters with cameras nor any cruel photographers. The two brothers simply could not stand having cameras aimed at them.
There was one major exception to Doug’s fear of being photographed–that is if he was in disguise. I discovered this by accident in October of 1987.
One of the hotels advertised a masquerade party to be held on Halloween near the Nebraska Room of the hotel. Doug practically begged me to go along with his idea to let loose and attend the party. Then he unleashed his plan onto me. He wanted us to dress up like nuns. At first, I thought he had lost his mind because he belonged to the Roman Catholic Church.
Doug told me he had been inspired by a group of San Francisco activists known as “The Mothers of Perpetual Indulgence”. They were (are) gender-bending drag queens who appeared in public dressed in over the top stylized nun’s habits and big, colorized hair, and makeup. Doug said he fell in love with the “nuns”, but wanted to go to the party in less extreme drag.
I was worried that this might be offensive to his devoutly religious mother. However, Doug countered my concerns by saying even his mother thought it was a funny idea. So, I agreed to be on board with his scheme.
We drove to our town’s only costume outfitters and browsed through their selection of priest, monk, and nun outfits. We soon found two habits that fit us perfectly and rented them for a week.
I’d rarely seen Doug so gleefully childlike as during the drive back to my house so we could try the habits on. It was as if someone had flicked a switch–his personality completely flipped. He nearly passed out with laughter. His reaction was contagious–my laughter caused my glasses to fog over with tears.
Doug then applied some black charcoal face makeup to his face for a beard. (He couldn’t grow an actual beard.) He then placed some oversized black framed stage eyeglasses onto his face for the finishing touch.
Then I diplomatically expressed the necessity of capturing his appearance for posterity. His reply was surprisingly instantaneous–absolutely yes. I loaded a new roll of film into my trusty Canon AE-1, then snapped away to my heart’s content. For good measure, I even fired off a few Polaroid snapshots as insurance shots. Doug was delighted with the Polaroids and could barely wait until the 35mm film was developed.
Two days later was Halloween and the big masquerade shindig. Doug arrived at my house already in nun drag. After I put the finishing touches on my own disguise, we left for the hotel.
We were a big hit at the party. Although there were a few other guys in nun drag and priest outfits, ours was best because we had decided to use bonafide costumes from the rental shop.
Doug moved to Phoenix, Arizona the following spring. Yet our friendship never waned. We kept in touch through phone calls and audio cassettes that we voiced to each other. Among the various communications, we sometimes laughed about the nun outfits we wore that Halloween. It was one of the many hilarious touchstones of the many years of our friendship.
Doug passed away last month. I feel regret that I do not have a standard photograph of my friend to ponder. I am thankful that the snapshots of Doug in nun drag have been preserved in a photo album. The pictures are reminders that Doug had a quirky, mischievous nature at his core.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes writer and literary critic, Cesare Pavese. “The closing years of life are like the end of a masquerade party, when the masks are dropped.”
What a great story! Glad you have nun memories and pictures. Maggie
I’m glad you enjoyed my nostalgic memory.
Maybe he was camera-averse because he was insecure about his appearance?
Yes, I chalked it up to that even though it was hard to wrap my head around the reason because Doug was a fairly handsome guy. The level of his aversion was way off the charts, though.