Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Self Portraiture and the Gift of a Face

my bedroom faces, college 1999

My mother, who doesn’t know what a selfie or Facebook is (she asked me if Facebook was really a book of faces, which it kind of is now) acts more like a troubled teenager than a grown woman.  Since I was a kid, I've seen the self-portraits she photographed whenever she was incredibly sad or smashed.  These were bummer pictures to see, of course, as her daughter, but I also admired how unabashed she was about them; they weren't hidden away in a box somewhere.  The one I remember most clearly, probably because I own it (she sent it to me when I was away at college) is a photo she took just after she'd cut off all her beautiful long hair. 

I also regularly took self-portraits when I was crying or really sad, when I was a teenager.  I liked how these photos looked and the idea that I'd created a work of art of sorts just by capturing myself in the act of crying; even as a young person, i was aware that the aesthetic rawness of art created by young people was of general interest, aesthetically, with the cool grownups I admired.  

I know that a lot of my friends also liked to take photos of themselves.  There was something so fascinating about a photo that is usually taken from an unflattering angle but still manages to show striking or unusually lovely facets of our faces.  

In college I got really into these self-portraits.  I moved to a new place every year, and whenever I decorated my new room, I always had a collection of photos of myself tacked to the wall near my pillow, with sad lyrics about loneliness written on them.

Some were photos taken of me by friends, and some were self-portraits.  It was comforting to have these self-pitying and poetic loneliness reminders to look at as I drifted off the sleep; when I was alone, it felt sort of cozy to wallow.  And on the nights I wasn't alone, it was nice to look at the photos and silently say to them "Not alone tonight, Robins."  

Eventually I discovered the devastatingly witty and sad prose of Dorothy Parker, and as an art project, I went through all my old photo albums and put together all the self-portraits I had of me, mom and my friends in a notebook with appropriate Dorothy Parker quotes as a narrative for each picture.  It is the kind of art project that's sort of like "meh" unless you're young enough to think everything you do is genius, but I still think it's a neat book to look through.

 As we all know, "selfies" are the trend du jour, and, especially lately, a daily journalistic topic.  There is a psychological study that's been reported on lately, about how selfies are bad for a woman's self-esteem, and also that they have led to a trend in younger and younger women getting plastic surgery.  

Even though if know that the act of holding a camera away from your face as far as your arms can stretch and taking a picture of yourself is not some revolutionary idea, it never ceases to disappoint me how popular the selfie is right now, and I hope the next big Facebook trend becomes something I feel no slight bit of ownership over, like dick pics or close-up photos of tire treads. 

4 of my lonely, lovely robins that kept me company at night

1 comment:

  1. Completely know how you feel! After I discovered the word "selfie" existed, I vowed never to post another picture of myself on my blog.