For our safety, passport photos have highly stringent requirements. You must be facing the camera head-on. The background needs to be clear, without shadow. You can’t have anything in your hair. Glasses must be removed. Your head must take up 70% to 80% of the frame. And don’t you dare smile.
These rules are good for identification, but lousy for self-expression. Which is why, as he sat in the chair getting his own passport photo taken, professional photographer Max Siedentopf began toying with the idea of tricking the medium. Could he keep a straight face, but somehow hide a twisted gag inside a passport photo?
For his new series Passport Photos, Siedentopf created dozens of boring, tightly cropped photos of people’s faces that meet all requirements of international travel. But each image is hiding its own joke. In another frame, he zooms out. You realize the rest of the scene is a zany, even surrealist vignette that’s been staged entirely by Siedentopf. A woman wears a dress made of toilet paper. A man has two vacuums attached to his nipples. Other scenes include someone blending together soda and Doritos, a lady balancing eight glasses of wine on her arms, someone who is actually duct-taped to the wall, and a man who is standing juuuust behind an open fire.
Siedentopf—a prankster who goes so far as to include a little ant that appears to be crawling on your screen in his email signature—tells us that he didn’t even tell the friends and strangers who volunteered to have their photo taken what was really going to happen at the shoot.
“They thought they were just there to take a normal passport photo,” says Siedentopf. “Some were pleasantly surprised, some slightly confused, and a few were left very disturbed.”
In any case, the subjects did a great job keeping their cool among the chest-down chaos, and the resulting collection is more than hilarious; it’s enough to make us question the secret depths that could be hiding in every single mundane passport photo we see from here on out.