© 2023 New England Public Media

FCC public inspection files:

For assistance accessing our public files, please contact hello@nepm.org or call 413-781-2801.
NEPM Header Banner
PBS. NPR. Local Perspective.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Technology Can Do The Smiling For Me

An app transforms the unsmiling face of Robert Chipkin into several other images, including a forced smile.
Upper left: Josh Sowalsky
Courtesy Robert Chipkin / FaceApp
An app transforms the unsmiling face of Robert Chipkin into several other images, including a forced smile.

"Why does he look so constipated? Everyone else looks so happy except for Mr. Constipated," my family invariably asked when looking at pictures of me in family albums.

Mr. Constipated. Now there's a nickname destined for the therapist’s couch.

At weddings, anniversaries and birthday parties; at the top of the Alps, overlooking the Seine, even at the Wailing Wall, inevitably someone would pronounce the scene "picture perfect," and start shooting, wringing the last ounce of spontaneity from any moment, invoking photography’s first commandment: "smile."

I tried. I clenched. I grimaced, I thought happy thoughts, and still my grin was pronounced foolish; my thoughtfulness looked depressed.

My “cheese” was decidedly Limburger. In short, I stunk. My only hope was that the fleeting moment would fleet, and the cameras, lenses, filters, and light meters would be too bulky, too slow, or too unavailable to capture for posterity the exact instant which would inspire future generations to ask, “Who is that Mr. Constipated?”

But that hope was dashed by cell phone technology, which seemingly in a flash turned even the clumsiest photographer into a modern day Ansel Adams.

Now everyone was a photographer and the siren call of Facebook, Instagram and whatever high tech improvement lay on the horizon was irresistible.

Until, as is so often the case, the creator of my distress became my savior.

There I was once again at the restaurant table circling my private inferno of photographic hell, when a phone was produced, and the picture snapped without the suggestion that I look natural and smile, as if the two had anything to do with one another.

“Don’t you want me to smile?" I asked Millennial Ansel.

“Not needed,” he said. “The phone will provide.”

And so it did. Milllenial Ansel went on to show me in short order, seemingly endless electronic versions of expressions that with a swipe could be placed squarely on my face.

Wry, knowing, thoughtful, content, a bit je ne sais quois, a touch enigmatic. Mona Lisa never looked so good.

“See?” he said, before sending the images off to the cloud and beyond, accompanied by the smugness that comes from confusing genius with owning the latest cell phone. "You’ll never have to smile again.”

And that made me smile.

Robert Chipkin lives in Springfield.

Related Content