“In front of the lens, I am at the same time: the one I think I am, the one I want others to think I am, the one the photographer thinks I am, and the one he makes use of to exhibit his art.“(Barthes, 1982,p.13)
1854 sees the invention of the carte de visite; 2013 sees the definition of a selfie being added to the Oxford English Dictionary. The difference is that there is only one person involved in this process: all the artistry and responsibility is accredited to the sitter playing visual ‘Second life’ games with the viewers and ownership, ethics and copyright are all thrown into the artistic expression and representation melting pot.
The digital self can be represented in a myriad ways: virtual identity as defined by self-selected avatars which change over time; text which creates its own image of you; old photos taken and kept by others; recent & older photos taken by yourself; artists’ interpretations of you using earthly elements and ways not yet thought of.
Write an entry in your learning log (up to 500 words) about the review of one of the photographic projects mentioned.
The project which struck me most was that of Nikki S. Lee. She started as a student of fashion photography and decided it was not for her. Her project developed from her trying to find her own identity: why was she sweetness and light with one person and something totally different with another. She remembers that when she was younger she used to struggle with who she was and that she was a different person depending on who she was with.
This has already strayed into psychoanalysis and there are specialists who have taken that route but that is not going to happen here. Lee’s quest was to find her identity. Paul Auster in his New York Trilogy (1987) seems to think that this is a futile exercise:
“We imagine the real story inside the words, and to do this we substitute ourselves for the person in the story, pretending that we can understand him because we understand ourselves. This is a deception. We exist for ourselves, perhaps, and at times we even have a glimmer of who we are, but in the end we can never be sure, and as our lives go on, we become more and more opaque to ourselves, more and more aware of our own incoherence. No one can cross the boundary into another – for the simple reason that no one can gain access to himself.’”(3)
I’m not certain that I completely agree with Auster. For example,” as our lives go on, we become more and more opaque to ourselves, more and more aware of our own incoherence” When we are older we have so many more layers of ourselves to look through than when we were younger so, in a sense we are more opaque to ourselves, but we may also be aware that we can see the layers clearly, that there is a synergy involved in adding all the layers: we are more than the sum of those layers.
Lee dressed up as many different people: pole dancer, prostitute, old woman, skateboader, a bride, a member of the bourgeoisie, a teenager … Her preparation for the roles was quite exacting and did not just involve dressing up but also involved developing the skills required, losing weight, putting on weight. She integrated herself into an Hispanic community, tanned her body, took on the mannerisms which would pass her off as Spanish. The photography involved required someone else to take a photo with a very simple, point and shoot camera. The unpolished outcome was in keeping with Lee’s intention of presenting this as a fake documentary series.
In her Innerview interview with Susie Macdonald (5), Lee said that the series ‘Project’ took about three months and that she decided to quit it because she felt she was becoming someone else, that she was at the same time herself and not herself.
What I admired most in her Projects work was the Layers item. She went to street artists in whichever city she found herself and asked them to sketch her face. She found that there was a difference in how she was represented depending on the nationality of the artist. She then layered the images and came out with a composite layered version of all the artists’ impressions – I’m not sure if she is continuing with that idea to see how her image changes over time or if she has stopped.
I don’t think she has found her one identity but she is happy with who she is at the moment. She finds that it is the energy which is exhibited between two people which determines how they present themselves to one another.
Can we ever speak of our one identity? It’s tantamount to saying we only ever wear one mask – surely how we interact with people is never consistently the same? We have different roles in life and, I suspect, that with each role we develop a different identity whether we are aware of it or not. According to Barthes (1982 p.13) we are 4 different people when we simply stand in front of a lens., regardless of what we are wearing or what skills we have learned before we stand in front of it. Except that in each of ‘the one’ there may be legions.