of image & identity
I’ve recently become more acutely aware of this two-year gap in my visual record — there exists merely a handful of pictures of me that can be dated back to the last two years. Most of them, I believe, have been taken by my mother during my occasional visit to my family. This, taken in a bathroom of the Gladstone Hotel, near the end of May this year, is my most recent self-portrait. Or if one’s definition of self-portrait involves a more limited definition whereby the face should not be obscured, then this would count as my most recent self-portrait, taken last October, during my temporary long-distance relationship, after I dropped Lucas off at the GO Station following his Thanksgiving visit.
My two-year-long lack of self-portraiture is a bit odd, considering that during my stint in Edmonton, I had the habit of turning the camera on myself every so often. I refer to “self-portraiture” because I tend to be the one wielding the camera; save for the few rare occasions when he does pick up my camera to curiously peer through the viewfinder and sometimes, even take a picture, Lucas doesn’t seem to have much of an interest in photography, even for the mere and typical purpose of cementing memory. In terms of my life history, like most people, I’ve always had pictures taken of me, albeit, they were all very much the proverbial snapshot to document positive experiences and milestones. Soon after Lucas and I began going out, fresh snapshots — you know, the kind with a handful of friends grinning stupidly into the camera lens — began to disappear, likely because I slowly stopped hanging out with my friends (often, occasions that begged to be visually memorialized) and spending more time at the library studying or with Lucas (I was very much enamoured with being in a new relationship).
The two-year dearth of images can be more or less traced back to May 2005, when I finally and gratefully returned to Ontario from Edmonton. A number of events coincided with this momentous juncture in time. One, kindled by a more serious interest in photography, I started to rely more heavily on a film SLR, rather than my dinky point-and-shoot digital camera. In time, this heavy use graduated to being exclusive use, and the kinds of images I was creating shifted too — much, if not all of it, was more about looking outward than being introspective. Quite obviously, in comparison to a film camera, a digital camera is much more forgiving in terms of cost and the instant gratification afforded by the tiny LCD screen widens the opportunity for re-takes. Some might call the latter either a charming quality of film cameras while others might label it a glaring disadvantage. Personally, I’m on the fence for this one. My digital camera has since, due perhaps to lengthy unuse, decided to frequently malfunction on me. This puts a rather large cramp in any widespread ideas or efforts I have to even remotely begin to re-attempt self-portraiture.
May 2005 was also the time when I decided, in preparation for trying to conceive and an indirect response to my loudly-ticking biological clock, that I would get off birth control after having been on it for over three years. [This turned out to be quite premature since the male half involved in procreation wasn’t duly ready to do so till late last year.] This preparatory move, ironically and very unfortunately, sent my hormones into a prolonged frenzy of imbalance that manifested itself as horribleannoyingdisgusting acne that antibiotics couldn’t even help (biology really ought to dictate that people outside of their teens should no longer be prone to such things). I am anything but confident enough to feel good walking around with a faceful of frightful acne, especially since I no longer have the very reasonable excuse of teenagehood. The hormonal upheaval lasted at least a year, and to this day, I still break out when I really shouldn’t. Not to mention, I’m now scarred (in my early twenties, I really thought I got off lucky without any bad breakouts and scarring. I was so wrong) and very annoyed that I’m scarred. It’s quite safe to say that I don’t feel the same about myself as I did prior to this unfortunate period. I think the horror of the protracted breakout not only exacerbated any inkling of self-consciousness I might have already had, but also extinguished any desire to be photographed, whether by others or myself (primarily, the latter).
Hypocritically, in my most recent final semester, my independent paper on visual anthropology examined the kinds of snapshots most people tend to create, particularly how only certain scenes or poses are adopted in the photographs so as to construct a visual narrative of a positive, happy life, true or otherwise. What tends to be absent from most family albums are the negative moments or scenes where the subjects just don’t quite look up to par to the unspoken definition of ‘looking good’. It seems that while I endear photographs that depict these scenes and I’ve expressedly contradicted this notion in many of the photographs I’ve made, when it comes to myself, by avoiding self-portraiture altogether, I’ve unconsciously fallen into the greater trap of constructing an ‘ideal’ narrative of myself by deliberately excluding images of myself during my low points.
Thus, in a manner of practicality and vanity, here we are now — two years and very little to visually show for my existence in that time. For that matter, in comparison with my time in Edmonton, I’ve done very little writing too, yet another measure, I consider, of my existence. I could say that I’ve been in more-or-less in school during that time (school sucks time and injects a level of mundanity and regularity that doesn’t scream the need to be written about). I wonder though, if it also has some tie-in with issues of identity and my lack of visual documentation, particularly since the content of the photographs I was creating experienced a marked shift during this time.
I’m quite mortified by myself, that I would even let it get to this point. I hate the fact that it happened and that there is no way to undo it. Let it be known that I very much enjoy photographs, particularly of people I know. When my parents return from each of their trips to Singapore, I’m much more interested in photographs of relatives than I am of the environment. Although, I will admit that if I were there myself, the reverse would be true. I think also inherent in the gap is my desire to separate myself from the masses and not engage in snapshot photography. I became the photographer rather than the subject, cleaving the two roles rather than going for duality.
In a world of what-ifs and what-could’ve-beens, I would now have a much more extensive visual record of myself, even with the unfortunate acne. For that matter, I would’ve used that period as an opportunity to explore matters of image and identity. But that didn’t happen. And I don’t have this record. Just smatterings of my likeness showing up in a trickling of obligatorily-posed-for images.
Over the past few days, highly uncomfortable with and much more aware of the lack of images, I’ve been wondering if I’m now settled enough with myself, proverbially put, comfortable enough in my own skin to take on the dual roles of photographer and subject and once again begin documenting my image and by extension, my identity. In recently photographing some unintended scars that I was momentarily quite proud of, I think the process has, in a way, already been partially restarted. The question lies in whether the process can be extended to the rest of me (as well as the means by which this can be accomplished, what with the temperamental digital camera and all). Perhaps it’s a matter of having to jump in no matter how cold the water is and hanging in there till it’s no longer cold.Advertisements