Saturday, September 22, 2007
Subject Vs. Object
I was thinking about the Gorbachev ad for Louis Vuitton, and I kept thinking that one of the things that would suck me, at least, into doing such an ad, were I a well-respected former world leader, at the very least a footnote for all time, would be the thrill of having a really amazing photo taken of myself.
I like looking at photos of people I know, especially photos taken when they were small and young and different looking than they are now. I like looking at photographs of myself. They're different kinds of exercises.
I know what the people I know look like from the outside. You look at the photo and you can tell whether it's characteristic or not, good or bad. Sometimes the photo shows the person in a new light, which is pretty gripping -- you try to integrate that with what you know of the person, make it three dimensional. Sometimes they are photos of the person much earlier; that's got that quality of mystery to it. Sometimes the photos feature them with people you don't know. That can be interesting, if you have been curious about the people, or if the photos themselves seem kind of allusive. It can also be a little dull, if you don't care about the other people at all.
It's more embarrassing to be all into photos of yourself. But I can't help it. Photos of me promise to tell me something I have no idea about: how the hell I look from the outside. They turn a cold eye on me. I guess there's the mirror, but you only go to the mirror at certain times, in certain moods. You can adjust immediately to the mirror, change your expression. You've been broke to the mirror.
(I am tempted at this point to insert a photo someone once sent me of himself flexing into the mirror. That would be bad.)
Photos of yourself offer the possibility of momentary escape from being the subject of the story -- there you are, just an object like everybody else. There's a trip I remember as being kind of over-emotional -- lots of crying and upsetness and what-do-we-do-now. But when you turn to the photo record, we look happy and amiable, delighted with this travel phenomenon. The photo takes the narrative authority from you -- tells you what the truth of the matter really is.
Or, if not the truth, like Gorbachev's cold war reenactment, at least what the truth could, conceivably, be. If you're lucky, you come off better than you thought.