The One and the Same
One year ago, in 2011, a co-worker/friend was invited to join a self portrait challenge—creating a self portrait each day for an entire year. Thanks to Facebook, I noticed this invitation and thought it would be fun. So, yes, I brashly invited myself, became a Facebook friend to my friend’s friend, and started a project that was both revealing and reveling. Daily I was treated to many, many wonderful self portraits created by absolute strangers that became… well…not so “strange” anymore. And I got to know myself bit better as well.
I’ve never really cared for my face. No, it is not self hatred…I just never thought of it as particularly interesting or attractive. Rather generic, if I had to label it, with moments of tipping on the other unattractive side of the scale depending on, of course, a bad hair day, lack of sleep, a new wrinkle, or whatever ravaged it on any given day. However, I’ve also seen it in rare moments caught in a photograph or in the mirror veering on the more attractive side…a particular light, a certain expression that had fleetingly flashed across my face, my hair suddenly making some great effort to look full and falling “just so.”
Through this exercise of a year of self portraits, I realized that both sides of this spectrum, ugly to beautiful, are simply that—but furthermore, the spectrum is not linear. It is circular, kind of in a yin yang sort of way.
As we know, beauty is cultural, as well as subjective—with our preferences perhaps even genetically predetermined. Who is to say one is more valid than the other? We see magazines portraying what we have been told are the most beautiful women in the world, advertising products that make them so, with disclaims in tiny, tiny print that state even the product that they are selling needed a little “help” from yet another product (the eyelash debacle was one of those.) Then we hear of a couple married for 50 years with the husband still thinking his bride, glorious in all her well-earned wrinkles, is the most stunning creature to walk the earth. Beauty is both an illusion and a construct of the mind. For that matter, so is ugliness.
I’ve discovered through this project that there is beauty in the ugly—and vice versa. And its documentation can be manipulated. This, I found, is not necessarily a bad thing, rather more of a revealing one. And fun.
My face didn’t change during this past year (additional wrinkles notwithstanding), but my perception of it certainly did. Mine is a face like the billions of others on this earth—able to be captured by a camera, able to be manipulated by time, space and technology, and (thanks to the internet) viewable by many from strangers in other countries to the husband with whom I share my home. It is an ever-changing face, both its physical form in any given moment as well as its digital form. It is the latter that I found the most fascinating during this project. I could manipulate a photo to portray myself as (almost) stunning as a model in a magazine or as revolting as deteriorating corpse. Neither is true—but they are also not entirely false. The process of creatively swaying between these two extremes is what I found most entertaining of all.
When faced with something one has promised to do for 365 days straight, one’s energy and creativity can vary. There were days (many!) I literally was in bed, snapped a photo on my iPhone, e-mailed it to myself, imported it into a paint program and with the click of the button changed it and posted it (this takes much less time than that sounds!) Other days I wanted—and had the time—to create something requiring more effort, like setting up hundreds of home-grown tomatoes on my kitchen table, precariously set up a tripod on the table and kitchen counter, set the timer and wiggle awkwardly under the whole thing, positioning my head so not to squish any tomatoes (which ultimately resulted in getting yet another a kink in my neck for my efforts.) I held a full-grown goose in one arm and a full-size digital SLR camera (heavy!) out at arm’s length with the other to take the shot. I struggled but succeeded in coaxing my little sand boa to relax on my head.
There were also times that accountability to this project and those following it gave me fortitude to get a portrait posted despite being exhausted, in the wrong place, or just in the wrong mood. Like when I just barely got a portrait uploaded while horse camping, linking my laptop to my Palm Pre with a very weak signal. I often fell asleep after finishing the portrait but before posting it (I would post it first thing in the morning, but other times I felt so guilty I would wake up in the middle of the night and do it.)
But, as the year went on, wonderful things began happening. I reconnected with being an artist. I fiddled with ideas. I explored digital manipulation—for the sake of enjoyment and experimentation, not as a job skill. I became disciplined in something once again, even if it was a little thing…an experiment, a dare, a challenge. I began feeling once again I had at least a few things to say.
I woke up.