An Epiphany

I would like to share with you, dear readers, of how strangely my brain can work. I was folding up a tissue to throw out when I remembered an art teacher from my grade school days teaching us origami one day. My heart had leapt when she announced that we would be making an origami camera. I don’t remember now what the process was but this was when I was, perhaps 10 years old, before photography fascinated me enough to have an interest in it. The thought of that origami camera and the excitement I felt which led me to ask myself, once again, “how did I get interested in photography and more so, how and when did photographing myself really become a deep-rooted need?”

I thought back to that time when I was 10 years old. I am the youngest of 3 girls and over the years, looking at family photographs I noticed and then remembered that my mother didn’t care much in taking photos of me. There are very few photos of me as a baby and it seems that, aside from communion photos and school portraits, any photograph that had me in it was intentionally made for family and almost all of those had my mother in them, or my sisters/other family members.

My mother was not a kind woman. my earliest memories of her mentally abusing me was around that age of 10 – when I began to gain weight and her angry, hurtful words toward me grew and lasted up until my adulthood when I gained the courage to shout back… though she continued to insult me until the end of her life. She was also a jealous woman. Her life didn’t turn out quite the way she wanted, so she took her frustrations out on her children.

And then here comes a sort of parallel – there are the photographs of her from when she was young woman…which were plenty. She was also the youngest of 3 girls and she was ignored by her family (but not abused) so the numerous photos of her, dressed gorgeously, hair done, posing began around the age of 18. She was a vain woman and perhaps because her marriage and her family were not quite perfect, she became jealous of those that she deemed were. She craved attention and sought it out however she could including, at a later age, dressing sexily, flirting with men and always needing to have her picture taken.

I remember reading, perhaps from Susan Sontag’s book On Photography, that there is a certain perceived validation to being photographed; that when someone asks to take our photo, it makes us feel special, desired, beautiful. The act of just admiring us is not enough but to immortalize us on film, pixels, etc. is “real validation“. I know that I begged my mother to take photos of me when I was a child and I remember how annoyed she would get when I asked. It seemed that she never wanted to take photos of her child (unless she was in those photos) and I never had the love and real validation of feeling beautiful from the one person that mattered at the time. I craved it and I craved attention. This craving led to me growing up, flirting with and ending up in toxic situations with men, gaining and losing and then gaining a lot of weight and my self-esteem could not have been any lower.

Her need for attention became my need for attention.

So, while in university studying photography, I finally found the excuse to have photos taken of me. Not by others, though….and that still holds true. No one desires to photograph me and why should they? I am taking enough, more than enough in the last 25 years that no one needs to. It had became a hunger, a need because I needed the validation that I was beautiful. That I was loved and damn it, if no one was going to give it to me, I might as well give it to myself. What I am writing here goes beyond my written artist statement and is as honest and open as it can get.

That need still exists but it has since calmed. I am almost 52 years old and have had a difficult life. I still struggle greatly with my weight and looking at myself in the mirror and in photographs still make me critique my appearance. However, there is a level of self-acceptance and a point when other things take importance and it becomes exhausting to focus on that one aspect of me. If I continue to photography myself until I can’t anymore, I hope some of those photographs include some wisdom or a feeling of “settled”..to not have that need for that kind of attention anymore. I hope.

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