Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Looking the other way

Yesterday I received some wonderful news: a portfolio of images I had submitted to the Center for Fine Art Photography has been accepted for exhibit and publication! The next step in this process is to send them the full-size images and an artist statement, so yesterday afternoon I sat down and began drafting that statement.

The images in the portfolio are photographs of my daughter and two friends preparing for a high school dance; they are shot in a fairly small bathroom, and include several pictures of the girls staring into the mirror and applying makeup. When I was taking them I was feeling more like a mom than a photographer, so coming up with an artist statement is a bit of a challenge -- it's more like this blog, a set of observations about what the photos teach me rather than a statement about what I set out to accomplish.

So I spent quite a bit of time staring at those images yesterday, and I came to some intriguing conclusions which continue to inform me this morning. Growing up in the 60’s, I was surrounded with images and messages about beauty and femininity; images I found hard to dispell even after being shaken and stirred by the women’s movement in the 70’s. For years I dealt with that tension between longing for beauty and knowing it shouldn’t be important by avoiding beauty salons, makeup, expensive clothes, etc.

But looking at these images I see that I was also avoiding looking in the mirror. And I realized that one reason I was taking those photos was that there was a mix of curiosity and pride I felt in looking at my daughter's WILLINGNESS to face the mirror. There are obviously lots of places I could go from this intriguing starting point. But this morning, as I pored over my images from our weekend in Portland, this was the one that kept begging to be printed. So I put it on the page and stared at it for a bit, trying to figure out what needed to be said. And I realized I was feeling a really strong temptation to photoshop out the reflection of me -- even though it is completely distorted and unrecognizable.

When I think about that -- and the pull this image has for me -- I see that many of my favorite photographs are about reflections, just not of me. And suddenly I am reminded of the rather long period in my 20's when I struggled with this sense of myself as a mirror. I felt, in those days, like I had no personality of my own; I just reflected back at other people what they wanted to see. I remember being desperate to discover some inkling -- ANY inkling -- that there might be some sort of core, indestructible self inside me somewhere (not surprising, given that I was trying on a variety of personalities at the time in a desperate attempt to recapture the interest of a straying husband).

So clearly there's something here I need to spend time with -- and it may just mean I need to be willing to look into my own mirror. Over the years I've grown comfortable with that core indestructible self that lies within me, and I am less of a mirror now though I still feel called to share my reflections. But I'm still uneasy about that face in the mirror, although somewhat less so as I grow older. She just doesn't quite look like who I feel I am? (If that makes any sense). But perhaps, like this image and the images in the portfolio, she has something she needs to tell me, and I need to stop a bit, look, and listen.

Here's the end of that artist statement I wrote yesterday:

These images make it clear that each girl had moments when she was essentially alone with that face in the mirror. At heart it’s the challenge all humans face: we can surround ourselves with friends and activities, masking reality with humor and makeup, but eventually we must confront our own unique selves. Will we have the courage to see and address the flaws and learn to live with them? Or will we turn and look the other way?

Hmm. I think I may have just spent a lifetime looking the other way.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Before I blather on (and I will), let me say: HURRAH FOR YOU! Good news!

Now for the blather...

My mother taught me to be a reflector and not an initiator. Sit quietly and wait until you are called upon. She still tries to hush me, I just pay a whole lot less attention to her instruction nowadays. Mostly.

She also tried to teach me that you always had to have a plan and know where you were going. The artist in me, like that that is in you, wants to see where I can be lead, what I can learn and experience rather than trying to tame the winds (or the paintbrush or the fabric or the lens) and force the winds to blow where I have determined they need to blow (and how hard and how long).

That whole process sounds exhausting to me. I don't want to harness the winds, I want to ride the winds and enjoy the wonders, absorb understanding and experience that divine spark that we all chase after - that I used to chase after with drugs or alcohol or relationships or whatever self-absorbing, high-giving thing I could lay my hands on to avoid the REAL reflection in the mirror.

You so absolutely FEED me, Diane, thank you for being here for me each morning. I grow a bit taller with each revelatory wedge of understanding and insight you provide. Thank you.

Diane Walker said...

WOW. We got the same mom. Thank you SO MUCH for identifying what the artist in us is looking for, and how that differs from those old voices.

You are such a gift to me; thank you!

Unknown said...

Congratulations - wonderful news! I love this mirror/door photo.