A lot of this project, for me, was wondering how I define myself. At first, I did a lot of planning for fake personas: a 1950s girl, a 1950s man, a motorcycle dude, a 1930s woman, a library spinster (okay, that one’s a little self-reflective), a punk, a homeless person, a goth, etc. Mostly, my plans were to make myself less of myself. Granted, some of these things have always fascinated/intrigued/inspired me. Traditional-style tattoos are an art form I love, although I would never get a tattoo, myself. After reading The Outsiders in junior high, I think the “greaser” look would be fun to pull off.
However, I think I was trying to skirt around the truth. While it’s fun to play dress-up, it’s not possible to recreate an identity, while ignoring what and/or who you truly are. And when it comes down to it, how do you define yourself, and how do you put that into a photograph?
What bothered me was that most of the things I came up with were objects. After all, objects are visual, and if we own them, and they mean something to us, then they can represent us, can’t they? For example, my collection of hats: that’s an icon of me.
(I know, it’s cheesy to reference Fight Club, but both the book and film were great)
However, the number of physical things I was using to show my identity made me feel shallow, and almost ashamed. Am I nothing more than a collection of objects? Am I as simple as sixteen hats and an oversized cardigan? I don’t think I am.
If I could do the project over, I think that’s what I’d do. Better yet, someday when I have money and/or access to functioning antiques, I’d like to get and old camera, and photograph myself in something akin to Vivian Maier’s style of “selfie,” where the camera and the composition do a lot of the work that objects and symbols simply cannot.
(Vivian Maier’s photograph, NOT mine)
Of course, for the present moment, I thought of photographing myself reading books, but books are objects, too.
It took me a while to decide that, when visually representing oneself, an object might be necessary. And an object can stand for more than a material possession. The vast majority of hats I own are hats my mother made for me. They’re not just a meaningless part of some hipster-uniform, though to those who don’t know me, that’s how they might appear. They’re a deep connection between me, and my mother–who also happens to be one of my best friends in the universe–and they are a symbol of the love she has for me. Cheesy as it sounds, that collection of knits and purls and pom-poms means a lot more to me than a way to keep my ears warm.
While I don’t think it’s possible to define yourself by your image or your possessions, I think they can definitely send an important message about who and what you are. That’s not something wrong with society, and it’s not narrow-minded to pick up on cues in someone’s appearance (the intentional parts of appearance, that is!). What we wear, what we carry, all speaks to who we are. It might not ever tell the full story, but it’s a good start. It’s a series of clues, not conclusions.