Identity and art

Excerpt from my Photography Journal for College, 2014. Topic set for the class “Self Portrait – Reflections – Identity

Tutor G in first class – asking us who we are and what represents us. Asks me if I am my dreads. I’m startled by the idea. It seems frighteningly reductionistic. Like seeing me as my gender/skin colour/height/taste in coffee.

I am not these things. Maybe self identity is as much about being able to be seen as something more than a collection of stereotypes and assumptions – the ‘headline grab’ of a person’s life:

“Nothern Suburbs Woman”
“Prostitute”
“Avid Gardener”
“Psychiatrist”
“Father of Three”

Are we not more than these things? More than our job, our body, our family, our disabilities, our losses, our skills, our loves? Is there not something beneath and beyond things? Some capacity for growth and change, some sense of self that can be authentically expressed or violated?

Who would you be
If I took from you

Blue sky
Unscarred skin
the hope of food
What would look back at me
From your cage?

How do you calculate self?
I am not a list of my skills and tastes and interests and fears and qualities and attributes. Do not my masks tell you ask much about me as my face? Do my lies not reveal as much as my truths? Do my fears not tell you as much as my loves? Am I not as defined by what I am not as what I am?

Tutor S says we are a synthesis of these things, that in the glue that binds them we find self.

I think we are more than the sum of our parts, and every time we forget this or fail to see it in others we do a violence.

Reductionism.
Loss. To be consumed – by fear, pain, sickness, grief. To be forged. To not rise above, or avoid, but pass through. Into the shadow. Into terror and anguish.

“I think” she says, “In one way or another, the topic of identity will be your life’s work.”

“I know,” I sigh, “All my works are self portraits, no matter what they look like. I’ve done my best to come to terms with that, it’s that or stop creating.”

“Me too,” she says.

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