Self-Portrait I

One of the photos that I am most proud of. A study into my identity.

Creating this image was a more introspective and emotionally challenging experience than I had anticipated. I made this my last year of high school for a self-portrait assignment, not intending on creating a composite of all these images but rather on presenting them separately. I'm glad I had the urge to do something more.

At the time - and to an extent, to this day - I was struggling with that quintessential teenage identity crisis that encapsulated most every part of my recognizable identity: my gender, my values, my physical expression of self, my socially performative self. I became notably obsessed at this time with that last aspect, that is the relationship with what I thought to be my inner authentic self and my superficial outer self. I often came to the end of a day at school exhausted and disappointed, confused as to why I acted a certain way or said something. It wasn't that I did or said anything that went against my core values (though this happened sometimes as well), but I was more concerned with not knowing for sure what these values were and how they manifested themselves into who I wanted to be. I was uncomfortable with who I was presenting myself to be, but I didn't know why. And in that conflict I festered for some time.

I seldom put myself in front of the camera, only really doing so if I lack a model for a certain project. In this case, I was the model, and so I took this uncomfortable opportunity to focus more on expanding my interest in color and low-exposure photography. One night, I replaced the major lightbulbs in my home with red lightbulbs and found something unexpected: this familiar, comforting space suddenly soaked in a heady, intoxicating glow. I dressed in all black and employed my sister to work the shutter on the camera I had stationed next to our dining room table. These photos were the result.


(Three of the original photos that were edited into the composite)

There was something about that setting, the lurid red light, that made me feel like I had tapped into a different level of consciousness. A sort of parallel world, like The Upside Down in Stranger Things, for the lack of a better reference. As I looked back on these photos - sitting in my bedroom, lights back to their fluorescent yellow - I felt like I was looking at my self, that self that had so eluded me. No mirror can replicate the absolute feeling of identification I had with these simple photos of myself.

I can't recall why I chose to edit them this way. I do remember wanting to alternate each photo - one gleeful and goofy, another serious and somber. The result, however, feels to me like the visual representation of the very struggle I had been tormenting myself with, the dense melancholy of disliking one part of myself while liking another. And here, in this image, I found a space where both sides of me could exist together - in uncontested, peaceful harmony.

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Learning Significance

  1. Both my photoshop and graphic design skills were tested by this project. The images turned out very dark, so I had to increase the exposure and contrast for all of them while making sure not to deplete their image quality.