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Lara Downes - The Rumpus

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The first time I ever had my makeup done professionally was fifteen years ago, on a photo shoot for the cover of my album American Ballads. The record was a compilation of American piano music from the 1930s and 40s, by composers like Aaron Copland, with that definitively, obviously American sound of his. The plan for the cover was full-on Americana: me looking fresh-faced and happy, the young unknown that I was, posed in an obviously American landscape, a weathered barn in an overgrown field.

The record label brought in a photographer, with a hair and makeup team in tow. They sat me down and took out a massive kit of creams and powders, brushes organized by size, shape and function. The transformative possibilities of the moment were thrilling. I sat back in the chair, ready for Cinderella magic. But as the sponges and brushes dabbed and swiped and blended, I started to worry. The colors just seemed wrong: too pink, too pale, too… white. A layer of peachy-beige matte foundation, then a generous dusting of pale pink powder, then cherry red lipstick to fill in a strictly outlined lip. As the applications progressed, the mirror showed me a strange kabuki mask, the glow of my Jamaican/Jewish skin and the freckles on my nose obscured by layers of chalky taupe. But, I thought then, what did I know? There were, perhaps, mysteries in the equation of lights and camera that would unveil the real me, only polished and perfected. I deferred, said nothing, went through the photo session eager to please, smiling when directed, even when the art director came up with the idea for the shot (that is thankfully, mercifully, hidden inside the CD booklet) in which I am standing bare-shouldered, wrapped, weirdly, in an American flag. As it turned out, there was no magic. On the cover of the CD, I look masked in beige, and a good decade older than my years. I look nothing like myself.