I know that I am not alone when it comes to my current fascination with self-portraits…especially after spending no more than ten minutes browsing Flickr or watching the ever-growing list of participants at Self-Portrait Tuesday (both sites I love!). This does not mean, however, that I am comfortable with the idea and process of taking photos of myself. I struggle with doing it; I struggle with “why?” I do it. I question why I am drawn to capture bits and pieces of myself on film, especially when I am so uncomfortable in front of the camera. It took me months to finally find the courage to participate with Self-Portrait Tuesday…then awhile longer before posting another photo.
I can honestly say that part of my struggle comes from how I was raised. I was taught – and told – that focusing on myself was narcissistic and incredibly self-centered; certainly not something one would do if they were humble or even “normal”. Over the years, this type of thinking mutated into a general uncomfortableness of being in front of the camera but worse yet, a fear of looking closely at myself at all…let alone the thought of letting someone else get a look at the “real” me. If the message we hear is “don’t focus on yourself…it’s wrong”, then we translate this into, “there must be something wrong with me if I want to focus on myself…” which over time, translates into “there must be something wrong with me.” Funny how our minds tend to simplify things.
Thankfully, those disapproving messages are being pushed aside. The author of a recent New York Times article calls this emerging self-portrait phenomenon “folk art for the digital age”, while a professor/photographer is quoted deeming self-portraiture “a form of communication”. While the meat of this article focuses on the reasons reporter Alex Williams believes young people, specifically teens, are so comfortable taking photos of themselves, he hits the self-aggrandizing nail on the head with a 21-year-old “My-Spacer’s” simplistic statement: “Everyone’s a little narcissistic.” However, there’s definitely more to it than that Williams reports. Psychologists attribute this trend to affordable and accessible technology (cel phones with cameras, image editing software, etc.), but even more so to “normal psychological development” for someone who is searching and forming their identity. Got to feel good about the words “normal”, “psychological”, “development” and “identity” all in the same sentence, right?
Well, with that information and logic, I’m not any closer to answering my title question. So what do I do? I come up with another option…a theory which goes a little deeper because it ties both elements together while adding a third…a sense of humanity. Here it is: Maybe by capturing snippets of ourselves in our random, everyday lives, we’ve found a healthy way of documenting our humanity, declaring ourselves a place in this world, and fighting back against the inimitable fear of feeling invisible, unimportant and lost in our data-processed society.
If this theory works for me, makes me feel “normal” in the psychological development of my identity, then I guess I’m more comfortable with my new fascination than I thought I was. But now I wonder, is it wrong to worship the virtues of Photoshop?
Any thoughts or other theories? I’d love to hear them and see your self-portraits…