On Seeing a Photo of Myself

I am a hypocrite. If you subscribe to this blog, you probably figured that out by now. But it’s time for me to come clean and admit it. I have written extensively (some would say ad nauseam) on authenticity, self-acceptance, Aristotelian virtue, sacrifice, self-awareness, perseverance, grit, and not giving in to the vanities of the day. I even pray about those things every morning. But when a real crisis hits as it did this week, what happens? I climb onto the diving board and do a cannonball into the Pool of Hypocrisy.

What in God’s name is he going on about now? you ask. It’s simple. My employer paid for a professional photographer to take headshots of employees so we could update our images in email communications, marketing , websites, and Google drive. It was a generous thing to do and sorely needed. You probably know someone (maybe even you) who posts a photo of themselves from a Christmas party in 1982 as their icon image. They tell me this sort of thing goes on all the time on Internet dating sites. Seriously, I have no firsthand knowledge.

So, what’s the problem? you ask further. I had my picture taken, that’s what, and I was not prepared for the results. Ironically, when I reviewed them on the photographer’s laptop at the end of the session–a dozen or so–they didn’t look half bad. I even thought of using them personally. I have done this at least three times before with an employer and each time was less and less satisfied with the results. Now, I thought, all that hard work watching what I eat, jumping rope (see Ten Minutes a Day), taking the stairs, parking at the far end of the parking lot, and walking everywhere has paid off. I was elated.

“Vanity of vanities…all is vanity” (Ecc 1:2). When the photos came back in an email with photos of other people from that afternoon, I was horrified. I didn’t recognize the guy in the picture. My weight was wrong, hair thinned, face wrinkled, and the stubble of beard meant to convey a rugged, outdoors look was white. I looked tired, too, but then I had the flu. What did I expect? I ask that question a lot. Immediately, I downloaded the photos and deleted them from the email so others wouldn’t see them. Imagine trying to retrieve the morning edition of USA Today. I recalled my mother’s expression about shoveling shit against the tide.

Let me explain that tide, because it doesn’t have to do with aging, as you might expect. I don’t mind aging, which is a good thing since there’s not a lot I can do about it. In a certain sense, I enjoy getting older. I now have an excuse for being slow. If you’re young and slow, people think you’re odd. When you’re old, they expect it and will even put up with it as long as you’re not driving in the fast lane or counting coins at the checkout counter.

In reality, it’s not aging that haunts me but, as Yeats wrote in “When You Are Old” (1892), the “sorrows of your changing face.” The fading of youth with its “moments of glad grace.” The “soft look” a pair of bright eyes once gave. Suppleness and strength that have waned. Such a body reflects a different beauty, a spiritual one. But I have not yet reconciled who I am with the reality of the photos. So, I resist.

But does the camera capture reality? Does it never lie? I’ve seen plenty of photos that lie about the people in them, at least when compared to flesh and blood. I’m guessing the same can be said of me. Why not? What I see in the mirror doesn’t jibe with the photos, which caricature the man I know and not in a flattering way.

If all of this sounds narcissistic, that’s because it is. But photos lose something when they turn reality into imagery, which could be a cautionary tale for our age of social media. They lose context. Who is this man who walked in off the street pretending to be me? I recognize the jacket and tie, but who is he compared to others, to himself, to the past? These photos definitely capture something, but who or what I do not know. It couldn’t possibly be me.

Image credits: feature by Emmanuel Acua; mirror by Milan Popovic. Like fiction? Check out the “Mercury trilogy” (The Gringo, Laura Fedora) and the autobiographical Nine Lives here. Also, go to Robert Brancatelli. The Brancatelli Blog is a member of The Free Media Alliance, which promotes “alternatives to software, culture, and hardware monopolies.”

3 comments

  1. Aye, Robert…Unfortunately, I know too well the experience you have described. Probably much less in my experience with photos, since I have been “photo gone missing” since primary school:)
    I guess what I really want to say is this: I don’t believe that you or I, or really, anyone else can be a hypocrite, or perhaps be reduced to our fleeting opinions, tastes, feelings, our best days, our worst days, and anything in between.
    It seems that “who” we are, moment to moment, does not come close to that precious, shining, real and secret being ,only glimpsed in fleeting moments, but so, so present , and the gift of our humanity to each one of us during our short lives, then even more fully afterwards. I have met these persons through you and through your friends, present in your blog.

  2. It’s not only photos – the mirrors in my house are doing strange things to the color of my hair! Thank you for Cillian Murphy’s gorgeous reading of ‘When You Are Old”.

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