The Ricky Martin Effect is a phenomenon that occurs in portrait photography when one is obliged to stand next to another person who is preternaturally beautiful, handsome, and/or photogenic. The effect is a certainty if the exceedingly beautiful, handsome, and/or photogenic individual is also a big star or a boldfaced name. Symptoms of RME may include: appearing ten to 20 years older than you are in real life; the illusion of shrinking or being a much smaller person; blotchy, mottled, and wrinkled skin; a look of discomfort, agitation, or intense fear; a resigned air of melancholia; baldness (for both men and women); and/or feelings of hopelessness that may manifest themselves in an expression that seems to say, "What the hell is the point?"
RME was so coined by Stargayzing to pay tribute to entertainer Ricky Martin, a man so handsome, well-built, and charismatic that according to Hollywood legend, no one has ever stood next to him in a photograph without experiencing at least some of the Effect's symptoms.
Of course, many of us average Joes and Jills have complicated feelings about being photographed. In this digital era of instant results, there are few among us who upon being photographed don't at once attempt to exercise the curatorial impulse of photo approval. "Let me see, let me see," we bark as we grab for the camera and scrutinize the image, wielding Anna Wintour-like control over angles and chin counts as if the photo was going to be on the cover of a magazine. With no film or development costs, we know we can just keep snapping until we get the one shot where we achieve a version of ourselves that is less truthful and more aspirational. Ours is a Blanche Dubois culture eschewing realism for magic.
In recent years, I have rationalized my increasing dislike of how I appear in photos with the explanation that I am more appealing in motion than in repose -- the underlying theory being that it's harder to focus on a moving target. Exceptions to this rule would include being carefully lit by an experienced lens man or being photographed from a great distance, say 20 feet or more. Candid shots have become a bit risky.
As I mature and am confronted with my image in photos, I often think of the great Marlene Dietrich -- an actress who knew as much about lighting as her cinematographers, and who utilized every possible Hollywood tool to create her mystique and shape the screen-goddess image which has outlived her. As she got older, this required more and more effort and increasingly dramatic measures, culminating in her final film, 1978's Just A Gigolo, wherein, unsatisfied with the results of conventional Hollywood trickery, the actress decided to wear a veil through most of her scenes.
Apparently still not pleased, she never made another film and, rather than permitting the sobering realities of age to further intrude on a lifetime of carefully managed image-building, the actress opted out, preferring to live the rest of her days sequestered in her apartment and communicating only by phone or mail. If my experience with Ricky Martin is any indication, it may be time to go veil-shopping.
In fairness to Mr. Martin, it would be wrong to put all of the responsibility of this depressing picture on his large, capable shoulders. There were a few other factors. For one thing, it was unfortunate for me -- a person with extremely fair, pink skin -- that the room was painted a color that Benjamin Moore calls mental institution beige, thus creating difficulty discerning where my face ends and the wall begins. What I do take personal responsibility for is my outfit, which might kindly be described as "curious," though I think that is, perhaps, too gentle. (Here I am flummoxed: my outfit was a shape-shifter; you know, one of those ensembles that seem to rock when you primp at home in front of your full-length, but by the time you get to your destination has mysteriously morphed into the uniform of a much older gentleman who lives in a small condo on the 37th hole at a Boca Raton golf course -- you know the type.) My hat, so natty and hip as I insouciantly cocked the brim down as I left my apartment with a swagger in my step, now looked like something Jerry Stiller would wear to go to a big box store. Was this also the Ricky Martin Effect or simply bad planning on my part?
This shocking photograph got me thinking that in forgetting my own rules I had paid a dear price. If you know you are going to be photographed with someone who won the genetic lottery, there are, indeed, certain precautions one can take to ensure that the photograph that memorializes the meet-and-greet does not look like the picture above.
To minimize the Ricky Martin Effect consider using one of these simple rules:
1. Whenever possible put someone else next to Ricky Martin (or the "Ricky Martin person" in your photo).
The other person will think you are being magnanimous when you are, in actual fact, protecting yourself. This fake gesture of kindness will dilute the Effect, as the RME loses potency the farther away you stand from its source. In extreme cases such as posing with someone whose looks are as over-the-top as the phenomenon's namesake, make an attempt to put two people between you. I can't stress the importance of distance. By the time the viewer's eyes get to you the effect will be much less pronounced.
2. Wear sunglasses or tinted lenses.
This serves the dual purpose of deflecting some of the RME in different directions, including, paradoxically, back toward the source, as well as giving you an aura of hipness that can circumvent some of the more obvious symptoms, such as the look of terror in your eyes.
3. Ricky Martin (or the source of the RME in your photo) will inevitably have a tan or at least very healthy skin tone.
Try to modulate your own skin color with at least a hint of a tan. If you are like me and tanning is not a physiological possibility, Stargayzing recommends a self-tanner or tinted moisturizer--anything not to appear like an extra from a zombie movie.
4. Don't just stand there trying to look attractive, do something!
For example, in this photo I should have done my open-mouthed look of happy shock, that says, "Can you believe I'm standing next to Ricky Martin?" A friendly hand gesture pointing toward Ricky would have been a perfect accompaniment to the mouth trick. "Look at this!" it will say, and you will be spared. If you feel disinclined to point, a palms-up, bent-arm gesture works nicely too; it says, "Hey, look, ma, presenting Ricky Martin," and diverts the viewers' attention away from you and toward Ricky. People will be less likely to notice that you look like you just gave blood.
5. In extreme cases, do not look at the camera at all.
Instead look at the subject with an expression of awe or supplication. Though it may seem defeatist, trust me, this can work nicely as it communicates a tacit awareness of the Ricky Martin Effect and says, "There's no point in fighting it!" This strategy is the photographic equivalent of letting a wave go over you. In doing so, you will end up doing in the photo what people looking at the photo will do anyway: saying out loud, "My God, Ricky Martin is handsome!" but without the inclination to make the attendant comparison because you will have already made it for them.
A different version of this piece appeared in stargayzing.com.