Everyday I take a photograph of myself and post it to the Internet. I've done it for over a year. It started because, upon launching my web site, I received unanticipated mail about the photos of me on the site. A few examples:
"You have so many looks, and I can't even say which is my favorite."
"The pic of you with shaved head and face make you look like you are like 16."
"I found you to be attractive as well in your photographs and I will confess I like you better with the shaved head... though the younger images of you with the long hair are equally as sexy. Such an overrated word... "sexy".... yet somehow appropriate nonetheless."
"About your cowboys, I think you might find them sexy, but I really don't, hehehe, I was repulsed originally by your images"
"I look again at your pix to find a very stern, masculine, no bullshit "get on your knees in front of me" type look. The bald shots are especially intriguing for me."
I find these observations to be fascinating and, while rationally understandable, emotionally dissonant. I know I've projected these images, but don't affectively feel what's been reflected back. It's strange. Yes, there is an element of performativity to the way that I represent myself on the web. I am actively playing with the possibility that by placing these photos on line I might re-script my own identity and become the identity presented here. Yet, interpretation of the photographs, the way that they script desire is disorienting.
I originally placed my photo on the web with ambivalence. I realized that I needed to present my image if the site was to excavate the ways that my identity is inscribed on and by the world. So I put up the first photograph. Many more soon emerged. Now, I require the photographs as visual evidence of the ways that others see me. I use the project to map my physical changes and better understand the ways that I am manipulating my physical persona and the ways that such changes are related to my own becoming.
Whats the purpose of photographic representation? Why do we rich and poor, professional and amateur obsessively take photographs? Are we trying to capture moments, create memory, and establish visual evidence for our existence? Is it simply an existential enterprise? For most of my adolescence and adulthood I resisted photography. Upon my return from Paris, I told my parents wild stories of the city, rich with descriptive detail. My mother replied, "I look forward to seeing your photographs." When I told her that I didnt bring a camera with me, she was shocked. How could I travel all that distance and not have pictures to share? In my mind, photographs of Paris are ubiquitous. My addition to the genre would not have been a contribution; indeed, they would have formed my future recollections of the city, the trip the relationships that I experienced there. More than that, they would have placed me in a specific context, documented me, and opened me to interpretation by an audience. More simply, they would have drawn attention to myself.
Photography, all representational media, constructs desire and reflects back, when we are the subject, our relationship to our dominant understanding of desire. They create comparisons, or the possibility of comparison of one subject to another. I had no interest in being compared. Or noticed.
My relationship to my body has always been complicated. For several years, as a child, I didn't like seeing myself naked. I'm told that I rather liked being naked as a baby and that it was hard to get me to keep my clothes on. I'm not sure how they succeeded, but it took a while to get them off again.
Why do I take a daily photograph? Why have I risked accusations of narcissism and self-infatuation? Why have I made myself into an object? Why do I broadcast it onto the web? Why do I subject myself to further objectification by the men who download my photos and send them to others who share a fantasy for my "type?" For example,
"hey.......loved the daily pics.......was hoping to see a nude shot of you tho <G>"
"I liked looking at all those pictures. I like your sweaters."
"Hi........have you more picīs(hot) of you??? Please. Tell me more about you/city/friends Kkkkkkkiiiiiiiiiisssssss, carlos"
"Just like to say I stumbled upon your site, and wanted to say a big woof...ur a very handsome guy. I also am writing as I run the REALLY hairy men page on the net and was wondering if it would be okay to put a few pics of you up on the site. I am not one to just put up pics if I know who they are of, so am asking permission first...but I would love to feature you. You can of course put up a brief bio of yourself, and any links to your email/url etc. If you would rather not appear...that is no problem...just please accept a big woof from me, and congrats on an extremely well put together page."
"checked out your page and photo albums. You're a good looking guy with a great hairy chest. Would you consider posting some pictures to this site? http://groups.yahoo.com/group/extrahairymen/. You could just send a link to your best album and the moderator would pull out what he likes. I can understand if you don't want to do this, but you'd definitely become a celebrity for a time."
"Just wanted to drop you a line and tell you that I really enjoy your pics. The combination of the body hair and your growing gut is very hot to me! Just one question if you don't mind...Is your belly-button an innie or outie? I was trying to tell, the thinner pic shows kindof an innie, but maybe as your belly started sticking out, your belly-button started popping out. SOrry for all the detail, I am turned on by these types of things. Have a great day and take care!"
"Subject: Justifiable vanity. cute guy, suitably impressive talent, intelligence and abs, why not smile
"Each day I come to see several times your daily projetc. I look in detail your images, they I looked at like I for very many reasons, set of expressions, "mimicry", attitudes, exhibitionism, and I like much what you releases calms, serious, humour and virility... one word: sexy. I am 34 years, French artist, sexy so... and I sent a message to you last week with my sites etc. but any answer. I am very disappointed! I hope for this time a small sign of you, but in any event I will turn over to often see your site because for a long time a character had not inspired as much sympathy to me!"
"I looked at your daily pictures again. terrific. if I were young and buff you wouldn't have a chance in hell of not falling in love with me."
"First message: great site.... a little indulgent. but well done nonetheless. My reply: what's the use if you can't be a little indulgent!! Second message: A little indulgent? A website with over 200+ pictures, more self analysis than a 3 hour therapy session, and lots of interesting art. Hmmm."
"Just thought I'd say that I like your website-particularly your different photos (as that's all I've looked at so far)."
"your body is so sexy.I love it . your just the type I most like. If u would like to be friends,send me back....."
"At risk of joining the masses beating a path to your electronic door, I will take the Leap of Faith..."
I'm tempted to fall back on a Marxist impulse. I control the means of production and therefore am the architect of my representation. Yet this falls apart with the flash of the periodic email that asks for a smile. I always smile in the next photograph. I like to please my audience. I rather think that I'm more in line with Jo Spence and interested in considering what happens when I put myself in the picture. There's something vaguely democratic about constructing images out of my everyday, out of the flotsam of a life and use those to dilute the barrage of images constructed by others, of others. The photographs that I've made are constructed, too. They create their own discourse of desire. They are bait, intended to attract an audience to my ideas. People love spectacle and I've made a spectacle of myself.
There's something quieter about them, though. They are factual. They note the changes that happen daily weekly monthly the days that I'm clean shaven, the progression of a beard; haircuts, moods, times of day, an expanding and contracting waistline, hopefulness and sadness. They document events of the day funerals, celebrations, costumes, location. They are a meditation on aging watching the progression of gray and the recession of a hairline. They chart the terrain of a face. They mark the passage of a season.
Are there revelations from this meditation? Do I see things differently because of a daily photo? What have I learned from this? I'm tempted to recite contemporary cant about ritual and research. There's some truth to it, but to simply state that the ritual of taking a photograph of myself each day is, in itself, revelatory would be a lie. Making the photographs is occasionally fun, but, on balance, it's a chore. With regard to research, yes, I have learned a good deal about photographic representation and figurative construction. The photographs, indeed, inform my painting practice.
Even though I sometimes feel like I've built a soft-core site for the so-called Bear Community, the daily photos reveal a process of seeing and being seen. I think they represent my fears of death -- that I am trying to establish a bulkhead against my mortality, perhaps establishing my own memorial. If nothing else, insuring that I'm not forgotten. It's a sobering thought; sad, actually. It reminds me of the foundational loneliness that's become my companion.