Photos d’identité

mug shots

‘La photo d’identité’ or passport picture used to be something of a French specialty. They were de rigueur for just about everything — joining a club, getting a bus pass, starting school or applying for a job. There were automated photo booths in every supermarket and photographers’ shops on all the main strips did a booming trade in portraits.

In various wallets, purse pockets and drawers around my house is a jumble of old ID photos. These records of past lives capture moments, years, entire eras since I first arrived in France back in 1986.

Now you can get them done online and print them yourself. Although I’m not sure this is good enough for official passport purposes.

Like any good French wife and mother I always carried a few photos around as mementos and to be prepared if anyone asked about my family.

This collection documents most of my daughter’s journey from pre-school to young adulthood. The first one cracks me up. That expression! She wasn’t going to take any guff.

She briefly morphed into a mini-me when some well-intentioned professional recommended glasses to ensure she missed not a single letter of the vital early reading years. It was just after that that she rejected all efforts (mostly Belle-mère’s) to give her that cute little B-C-B-G look (bon chic, bon genre, a French version of the well-heeled chic). She grew her hair and became a tomboy par excellence before transforming into a beautiful young woman. More recent photos even show her smiling!

There are fewer ID photos of my son. This may be because he was in constant motion, especially in the early years. One teacher dubbed him ‘Zébulon’, a French cartoon character on a spring who simply can’t stay still. (If you’re interested, he shows up in the video below at about 20 seconds in.)

Husband matured from handsome young man to handsome older man. As he is still my junior by several years, he will always have youth over me. Although possibly not hair.

I am not sharing any recent ID photos. Since they changed the rules in line with the biometric passport, and you are no longer allowed to smile or even form your facial muscles into the semblance of an expression, I will spare you my slack-jawed mug shot.

But I’ll keep the collection for my memory box.

Do you keep a collection of ID photos?


  1. francetaste · February 22, 2018

    What fun to see the transformation! Results to be very proud of.
    ID photos always remind me of the Amélie movie.
    I remember struggling with passport photos of my newborn, trying to keep my supportive hand invisible. Eventually we put the baby on the floor. Duh.

    • MELewis · February 23, 2018

      Thanks! Somewhere in the collection is a photo of my infant daughter when I had to get a passport done too! I always feel equal amounts of pride and relief when it comes to my kids. They are both delightful human beings, but I can hardly take credit. 😉

  2. midihideaways · February 22, 2018

    Lovely article – I have a few of my old ID photos in a box somewhere. It’s always fun to look at them – there are some where I think ‘how could I??’ 🙂

    • MELewis · February 23, 2018

      Oh, yes! I have often wondered the same thing….Although I find as I get older I am more accepting of past moments of madness.That perm! Lol.

  3. Kiki · February 22, 2018

    Mel, this has me smiling, grinning, nodding my head, this is great stuff, fun, truth and some more…
    Yes – no more ‘handmade’ photos for ANY official document in France. You NEED to go to a photobooth somewhere (usually in larger shopping centres, although when I needed to go our centre was being revamped and I had to search high and low for a replacement booth!) I needed a new driver’s licence and – apart from having to show up at least 3 times and loosing half a day each time because somebody wanted yet another OFFICIAL FRENCH translation of any document AND they didn’t like the photos, and, and, and.. – AND the waiting times, and the frustration as well as very badly behaved sullen uninterested ‘officials’), I – funnily – had to take off my glasses for the official photo. Can you believe that? I’d be blind as a bat and in Switzerland I’m obliged by law to always carry a second pair of glasses or contacts when driving – in case I break my glasses in an accident and couldn’t, therefore, park my car on the side of the road, I guess….. Or maybe because one contact might jump out of my eye and I then could put on my glasses, or God knows what – because I sure don’t!
    I also had to have new passport and ID card. Being Swiss this meant to show up with a bundle of documents, copies, infos on EVERYTHING (inner length of my legs anyone….;) and more) at a specific time in Paris. However, there, the similarities ended and Swiss Efficiency kicked in: After waiting a bare 8 Minutes, a discussion with the person behind the glass wall, I was asked to go to a ‘photo-cum-truth-box’ on another floor and – such as in a prison, not that I’ve been but I know about this! – we continued our discussion/information/control interview with finger-prints, eye-reader (I think, have already forgotten most of it!) AND the famous photo. I had to: – Put my hair totally out of my face, not a lock to be seen – Take off my glasses – NOT SMILING (especially difficult for me because I like to please….) – hold my head UP – elong my throat but not so that it seems artificial….. (we can hold it there because by now I had a cricket in my neck, couldn’t see a thing, folded my lips in a snar with concentration, said employee dispaired because of my white hair she had ‘nothing’ on top of my head – I know, all my fault!) I hope I’ve made YOUR day with this description, so far!
    In all this, perfect niceness combined with scarying efficience and only 7-10 days later I walked to the post office twice because the Swiss don’t ever send any such important documents together, and of course, I had to sign for each on separate days….. and gosh, if I looked before (and normally in my day-to-day life) quite unspectacular, on my official papers I truly look like a thug, thief, personnified bad conscience, simply: NOT like me at all! And to think I had to do all this so that I can still visit our friends in England after that wretched Brexit decision….. If it wasn’t for the love for our friends we visited every year, I surely would not have renewed them.
    I DO have my old passports though, always asked to keep them. I also have frightening photos of myself in various styles and ages…. and I realise that I have practically NO photos of my son as he is extremely photo-shy. Which is sad as he is a very good looking man. But hey ho; I carry him in my heart, who the heck needs pictures!

    • MELewis · February 23, 2018

      This is hilarious, Kiki! I can so relate to the frustrations with the administrative procedures in France and Switzerland. The Swiss truth box sounds truly terrifying! And I agree, the photos without glasses are appalling. At my age I feel naked without them.

  4. Osyth · February 22, 2018

    I love stumbling across ID pictures. Favourites of my children abound and I will not surrender them until they carry me out to my final resting place. They just make me smile. But the crown goes to my mother who has white hair, a cloud of it – pure pure white. For her last but one picture (so taken in her 70s) she wore a white roll-neck and of course the background is white. The result is just a floating face which never ceases to make me roar with laughter, like tears down the cheeks full on laughter. I have asked her not to destroy that passport and I will treasure it forever, or until they take me out to that final spot, at least. We call that character Zebedee by the way. A very smart man called Eric Thomson (father of Emma) bought the French cartoons and gave his own commentary. You might like to check them out on You Tube ‘Magic Roundabout’ is part of British folklore and they are still so funny all these years (and they were first aired when I was a child) later …. toodlepip x

    • MELewis · February 23, 2018

      I do love that description of your mother’s floating face! I can just imagine the hilarity of it. How interesting to learn that you have an English Zébulon. Will definitely check out the Magic Roundabout. Toodles!

  5. Garfield Hug · February 22, 2018

    A lovely share. We can use photos we take using a white background with our cellphones for passport. But I prefer the service offered at the immigration office here for a fee. Save me the hassle! I never look good in photos so I don’t have any left over haha

    • MELewis · February 23, 2018

      It’s funny how people are about their own photos — sounds like you are one who is never happy with the result. I often think I look better in photos than in real life. You can always adjust the angle or the light to avoid showing your worst features — unless the photographer is French!

      • Garfield Hug · February 24, 2018

        Lol! Let’s just say that I don’t like looking at self haha! Ooh any French person is detailed and takes pride in their work. I remember a pastry chef once and ooh lala…he was never satisfied with anything but perfection. His treats sold were really good!

  6. Liz · February 22, 2018

    Love this!! ❤️Liz

    • MELewis · February 23, 2018

      Thanks, Sis! Memories, eh? x

  7. coteetcampagne · February 22, 2018

    Ah, ID photos
    Bet your new one ain’t as bad as mine

    My Grandson said “Don’t worry Nana, you aren’t really that old and ugly. At least you are kind and nice so don’t worry about looking like that”

    • MELewis · February 23, 2018

      Out of the mouths of babes, eh? I had forgotten about that post. Your description of yourself in those pictures is hilarious and if it’s any consolation, that is not at all how I imagine you at all from your writing!

  8. Heide · February 22, 2018

    What a charming post! I love looking at photos taken over the course of many years — because our lives are written on our faces, aren’t they? Pity the French government is doing its best to erase these rich mini-histories by making its citizens stare expressionless into the camera.

    And since you asked, I do indeed keep a collection of ID photos. My favorite is the yellow-hued mug shot a Photomaton in the Gare de Lyon spit out for my husband’s and my Cartes Orange many years ago. Our brains addled by jet lag and culture shock, my beloved and I had a horrific fight inside the photo booth about which buttons to push and in what order — but we stopped abruptly when the flash went off and captured us in mid-tantrum. We still pull those photos out occasionally and laugh about our mutual meltdown.

    • MELewis · February 23, 2018

      Thank you for sharing such a wonderful memory. I have no photographic records of our spats but can attest to similar shameful moments of anger with husband in public places. Without the perfectly good excuse of jet lag and being in the immensely stressful Gare de Lyon. I would treasure that photo indeed. What a fab souvenir!

      • Heide · February 23, 2018

        Isn’t it reassuring to know that even public humiliation can be fab, when enough time has elapsed? 😀

  9. acflory · February 24, 2018

    I can’t bear to throw any old photos away, even those of people I don’t know! After Dad died I inherited all the photos he inherited from /his/ sister, and /she/ had taken millions of pics of her work colleagues. Now I have all these strangers amongst my family photos. I keep thinking that if I burned them I might be destroying the last remaining photo of someone’s beloved ‘somebody’. Gah. 😦

  10. A new life in Lille · February 25, 2018

    I came across some old photos of us when we moved to France last summer. Who are those young, slim people with brown hair, we wondered? Hey ho. I shan’t be posting those any time soon either.

    • MELewis · February 25, 2018

      There’s a 5-year grace period – and then they become wonderful old souvenirs to be shared! 😉

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