Every once in awhile I take a moment to reflect on the ubiquity of cameras. They are everywhere as stand-alone devices, but they are also embedded in our phones, they rest on our computer monitors… even when we wait in line to buy a candy bar at a convenience store. They are up there in the ceiling, to the left or to the right. Sometimes they are dead center, which makes it easier to look at the camera and directly at yourself in the monitor. I like to be able to look at myself straight on. It is a little… “disconcerting” is too dramatic a word — it’s a little frustrating to look at a monitor and see the side or angle of my face. Being the subject of gawking, whether by another or by my own self, is just as uncomfortable. But looking straight on, in the eyes, is okay; it’s honest.
All of these cameras taking image after image, which are fed back to us, is an extraordinary stream of self. I can wonder and marvel at this because I grew up when it took months to go through a precious — not to be wasted — roll of film. Back then, it was a time when it took a week or longer to get those films developed. Seeing ourselves reproduced was not so common then as it is now. At that time, the only “selfies” were the ones you made yourself.
I drew frequently when I was young. My mother encouraged my artistic inclinations but she also gave discriminating feedback. Accolades were different for a large pen-and-paper canvas of spaceship battles then they were for say a simple pencil sketch of the family cat. I can only imagine that she saw the soul of the work as different; that perhaps the work of drawing X-Wings and TIE Fighters was an imagination, a fiction, whereas rendering the presence of an Other was about negotiating a relationship. She really honored those works. She encouraged my sister and I to draw self-portraits.
Over the years, I’ve done a number of “old-school” selfies but I admit I come to make them much less frequently. In the past 20 years, I’ve only made 2+ self portraits (I’ll explain the “plus” soon). What interests me the most about them is that the spirit in which I’ve come to make self-portraits in my adult life is when, frankly speaking, I’ve been at a very low point in my life; in fact, dejected, self-loathing. In hindsight, it occurs to me that this visceral need then to pull myself in front of the mirror and draw what I saw was about a desperate need to renegotiate my relationship to Self because, presumably, I’d lost it somewhere along the way. In both cases, I was in front of a bathroom mirror — I had taken my lonely self to the “alone” room; where we perform catharsis, we hold a space; where we re-present ourselves before going back out in public.
The current “temple of my familiar” has challenged me to evoke an image that represents emerging from a crisis (see The Daily Create #635). It didn’t take long after holding a quiet space before my mind drifted to these old self-images. When I contemplated why it had been over a decade since my last “selfie” I wondered if the emerging use of social media avatars might be the way I am re-presenting myself now…to others and to myself. Might these past self-portraits have also been a form of avatar? My life now is so different and distant from 1994 and 2000, when I was weathering storms and made these two self-portraits. But I still use the tools available to make those self-portraits with the little time available to me. And I’m thoughtful about them. After all, they reflect how I see myself, and I see myself as being in a pretty good space.
Let me leave you, my guest, with the remarkably sublime “Le Long De La Riviere Tendre” by Sebastien Tellier. To my tender heart, this music speaks to me of “emergence.” It reconciles me from 1994 to now, approaching 2014.
Featured image cc licensed (CC BY 2.0) flickr photo by Natalie Wilson. http://www.flickr.com/photos/nataliewilson/4780133625/