Everyone’s taking selfies nowadays—even cats are at it. Maybe your grandmother as well: who knows? I’m not really talking about those vapid pics in front of a full-length mirror, smartphone in one hand and the other doing something border-line sexual. I’m talking about selfies which are well thought through and somehow staged. Usually such selfies lack exposure of the camera and the ubiquitous outstretched arm. Lots of times we might not even realise the photo’s a selfie.
When people take time and trouble over the pictures they take of themselves, they’re saying something. This is how I see myself. Maybe this is how you see me too. Whatever you think, this is the beginning of a conversation, a story about how I’m engaging with the world. To accuse the person of being vain or narcissistic is, I think, to miss the point. Painters throughout history have always been drawn to self-portraits.
The struggle we face
I think it comes down to this: that our lives are locked shoulder to shoulder with the force of time. Sometimes we fall for the illusion that everything and everyone stays the same forever and don’t get me wrong, there’s a core in us that will always remain the same. Unfortunately this isn’t our bodies.
Our skin toughens, things fall apart, and the tiredness of our eyes doesn’t seem to correspond with the fire in our hearts, our lust to keep on living. Gay men in particular have historically seemed to grasp this tragedy with the acuity of a mystic and the brilliance of an artist.
Everywhere we look we’re confronted with images of youth, sometimes deceitfully manipulated through technology. As standards seem to rise for sex appeal among gays, we’re faced with an uphill battle.
In the past I’ve been guilty of responding to this fear by going on a selfie spree, to make the absolute perfect photo. However, when someone wants to kill themselves because they can’t get the perfect image, this is a tragedy.
So what does it mean to let your selfies tell a true story about you? The truth is that the only thing we need to measure the images of ourselves against is how we’re living our lives. If I rack up mountains of selfies and pictures of myself which show me looking like someone I’m not and doing things against my inclinations and values, then what we’re leaving for posterity is a book of lies.
Instead, I want to create an archive of images which honestly reflects how I developed into the person I am today. We need to be selective: delete the repetitive and the banal. Keep and treasure those images you can tell a story about, which will graft themselves onto your life and the places you live in, the people you love.
What’s my story?
I’ve modelled professionally for photographers who’ve caught something of my personality and body I could never have captured myself. Equally, I’ve crafted images of myself which only I can produce. Even if nobody else sees your pics, it can be good to keep them aside, perhaps in a scrapbook, which you can adjust and re-draft as time passes and you want to re-draft your story.
What does my story look like? It tells the story of a boy unsure of himself. He’s beginning to own his own skin and map himself onto a wider mosaic of gay culture. But he still wants to stay connected to those values which branch into the rest of life as well. I’m trying (sometimes failing) to make sure my selfie trail is selective as well as thoughtful. I want to be able to look back on these pictures and say ‘Yes, this was real’. And I want others to be able to say the same.
Pictures of you tell a story: what will yours be?