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This is who you are, not – when you are frozen in time – Andrew Wilkinson
My interest in self-portraiture originally stemmed from both an aversion and want to understand vanity. At that point in time I lacked confidence, communication skills and art direction. I lacked. Now, I question if aversion is a mechanism of denial to aging and acknowledgment of oneself in the present. If I choose not to see myself frozen in time, do I therefore ignore the reality of my timelines? Vanity merely becomes a curiosity in the self-portrait. Hair, eyes, nose, mouth, smile, no smile – these physical attributes to my being are as I’m seen by others, never by self. Though this thought does extend to mirrors, as the self is only reflected by the present, and the photographic image is the immediate past.
In my professional career I frequently encounter subjects that maintain an immediate despise of the camera, and an unwillingness to identify any reason. They say camera, but mean image. This automatic attitude without much data to back up the claim will then bring an energy to the meeting and photography session. An energy that is already fraught with discrepancy, and then requires an increase in mine to balance the deficit. Conversely, I encounter subjects that only have an interest to see themselves, seemingly not in a narcissistic sense. Both instances are problematic in terms of their energy. And then there are those who know they are pretty – and what does that get you? Congratulations on winning the genetic lottery. And, this is in a narcissistic sense, for those who know. If you are a model, that’s just great and a tough choice, and sometimes time and trends are either with you or without you depending on what that market is in the market for. And then, how long will it last? And how much time do you really have at it. If you are an actress or actor, I’ve heard many times they were smaller in height than thought and their head seemed slightly bigger. Does the camera technically favor that genetic win. Well if so, congratulations on your head being slightly bigger to compensate for the distortion through a curved prime lens.
My thought on these reactions is based on the subjects’ history of experiences with their image of self. I question if this is social constructionism distorted by the media’s perception of beauty. I have heard many subjects openly respond with how they see themselves in their head, to how they look now. Younger, slimmer, happier – freezing the perception of self. None of it is true. How you see yourself is not how you look or how others see who you are. It never will be and you’ll never know.
The role of the camera and photographer is the interplay between the art and science of creating an image and the energy between subject and photographer in that moment. The photographer is the creator and editor during the portrait process affecting the dynamic between photographer and subject as well. To remove the photographer leaves the camera to document the subject by the subject, a true self-portrait – not selfie. Although relative elements interfere with the truth when the subject is the photographer as well. (see Susan Sontag ‘On Photography‘).
The original photo booth machines produced photographs that were unique – there will be no reproductions, unlike the instance of digital or film, polaroids can only be one. These machines initially had a primary function for identification cards, train passes etc., but a beautiful side effect happened with these machines as well. People took advantage of the timing and exhibited their creative side – just for fun. And, then couples got involved in this process as well, squeezing in together in a space barely big enough for one and forcing the intimate space. I still love seeing these strips of images of couples. In addition the quality, the polaroid film and processed on the spot, sometimes had a softness to the final image. What could be more exciting than waiting for the machine to process your images and deliver them right there. Wait for it.
I once chose to have a machine designed with limited capabilities take my self-portrait and ascribed the visual proverb of the three wise monkeys during the process – since there were four shots, and after I saw the first shot and how boring I looked I decided to try to look not so boring and posed the proverb in my self-portrait. When photo booths used polaroid film, (a genuine unique piece), they now of course are digital and your image is a scan, which keeps a record. You are no longer a unique piece as you once were.