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.


hithere said...

A soon-to-be-ex boyfriend had a bunch of photos sitting on his diningroom table. I think he did not particularly want me to look at them, but didn't care enough to snatch them from me. They were, all of them, -- I would say, thirty of them -- of himself, posed in his apartment, looking coy, looking manly, looking contemplative, etc. He did not enjoy the fact that I found them hilarious. I didn't say anything, but I couldn't stop giggling. (Well, it was really more of a guffaw.)

Noko Marie said...

CC, I am also into photos of myself, and I love looking at photos of people I know. I'm always surprised how seldom it comes up: the people I know almost never ask to see my photos or offer to show me theirs. Maybe this is a hold-over from all those jokes about people showing endless vacation shots?

I also share the desire to have some, at least one, really good photo. You know, with the digital era, no one will know if you take hundreds of yourself and select the very best ones. Somehow I've been too lazy to embark on any such project myself, so maybe it's not really as fun as it seems in the imagining.

Captain Colossal said...

I kind of like the idea of collecting a bunch of photos of myself in different moods and displaying them. I will plead guilty to from time to time forcing my photos on other people.

My favorite thing to look over is other people's year books. I find them pretty much inexhaustibly interesting.

The Secretary said...

That's a wonderful photo you have at the top of this post.