How those who love us photograph us

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A portrait of me taken by my 5 years old niece forced me into this theme. As I stared into the photograph I wondered “do I really look like that”? The question is as simple as it is complex. I’m aware that the word “really” in this sentence is just a figure of speech, so to deconstruct the question means to think about the significance of the “look” and the “that”.

  1. Regarding the “look”: when one uses the word “look”, usually a comparison is implied. One usually means that something looks like something else. But what astonishes me here? For once the fact that I look older than I think I do; but most importantly the fact that the shape of my face reminds me of a specific head sculpture, one by Messerschmidt*, which just goes to show… well… nothing but that our imagination plays a key role in the way we go thru life.
  2. Regarding the “that”: I struggle to conclude whether there are universal properties in the “that” or whether I’m unable to interpret the photographic me without letting all my subjectivity take over. What I can say, with a certain degree of objectivity, is that this photograph depicts someone who seems to be experiencing a special moment; her eyes are joyful and tender and she looks extremely wrinkly, maybe tired. Apart from that, the “air” that feels this photograph is a mixture of two things (pretty much straightforward): how the photographer (my niece) sees the portrayed (me) and how the object wants and lets the subject see it/her/me

*Taking a short detour through Messerschmidt’s sculptures: the particular one I have in mind came to be known as “A Strong Man” and, as with many of his other sculptures, its traces and expressiveness mimic those of a clown, and a la folie moment, I must add.

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© Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, A Strong Man, 1771-83, tin-lead cast.

Both my niece and I love clowns. I love dressing like a clown and have a darkish-looking clown tattooed, which my niece also photographed the same day. Is this proof of the power of perception? Is the “aura” of the clown-like tender happiness what establishes the intentionality of this portray, i.e., the relation between the subject and the object? It is possible that the reason I first fell in love with Messerschmidt’s heads was because they resembled the sort of expressions I thought characterized me?

*

Back to the issue at hand – How those who love us photograph us – I went back to my archive and searched for portraits taken by friends and family and came to the conclusion, now apparently easy to attain, that when comparing those portraits with my self-portraits (which I used to do quite a lot), they are the ones that seem to be more authentic, meaning that their ethos, their way of being and becoming is more truthful.

In a recent post, I shared a portrait taken by my boyfriend which surprised me for very similar reasons: for being able to capture a sort of expressiveness of my body and face that I was always unable to shoot. Looking at some of the portraits he has done of me (and I usually turn my back on the lens) again I recognized a high level of authenticity, meaning a truthful intention and an honest relation between the subject and the object: no purpose at all besides the playfulness and proximity of that relation.

In the process of looking at the portraits others had taken of me, I went back to my comfort zone: phototherapy. I realized that, by comparison, those portraits allowed me to think about my relationships with those who stood behind the lens. Won’t go into detail here, but it is clear that my persona has a sort of different photosensitive form depending on who’s looking at me. With some people I’m more present and open and with others I’m almost not there. Is it possible that by letting our loved ones photograph us we could get a clearer perspective on the sort of relations we get ourselves into?

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