My art teacher the other day was suggesting a photography student to consider the question “does portraiture lie?”. And whilst at first glance it seemed like just another exam-style question, when he started talking about social media I have to admit I started really listening.
His argument was that everything we post is quite simply fake. As soon as you put a camera in front of someone (self portraiture included) even a smile will become for the camera, as will boredom or any other expression of emotion we decide to go for. Made me think, how many of my photos are actually representing how I felt in that moment? (quickly came to the conclusion that not very many, and the ones that I did post, are most definitely the happy ones). But then again, isn’t that just a given, that the emotions represented in photos are pretty much just to add interest. I thought it leads to the question- is there anything wrong with posing? Since, capturing natural emotion could simply be preference in photos- some people are big on it, and some people don’t really mind if you’re putting on the mood or not.
What I find much more dangerous than simply if the emotion in the photo is real or not, is how much is so hidden online. The things I struggle daily with, how I spend my time, and the thoughts I just can’t seem to get rid of from my brain- none of that comes across, in photos. And suffice to say, it is a worry for me when I look at my Instagram grid and it feels like a complete stranger is there in front of me. Sometimes the person in the photos seems very unfamiliar, which is definitely a warning sign.
Excuses I give is everyone knows that our online selves are far from an accurate representation of our true selves, we’ve all read that, heard that, and even told other people that many times before. They are familiar words…and yet somehow, still I think that’s far more easy to forget than we realise…
My art teacher went on to ask, does portraiture lie because it gives a fake identity? And although just the word ‘identity’ makes me want to roll my eyes (exam boards and the curriculum in general seem to have really overdone the ‘identity’ theme), I found myself thinking that I probably agree. I can’t think of one photo that would accurately represent my day to day, and I can’t help mentioning, there are none which show pain.
And that's all without even mentioning the thousands of days where I wake up tired (and it shows) and never quite recover for the rest of the day. Or when my skin decides to go against me and break out, or I've had such a mess of a week looking after myself hasn't been easy and I walk around not even having washed. Or I simply just look dead.
It's part of the reason why my Instagram feed looks unfamiliar sometimes- when you're receiving kind comments whilst looking like you should really just go to bed and wash your hair as soon as possible,
it feels discordant- or, like you're far away from the person you're presenting.
I'm also an actress, and I definitely find myself acting in shoots. Not just through changing facial expressions, but really adopting another persona- perhaps a heightened sense of confidence. I really like creating characters, thinking 'what would they think, how would they react/act in this situation?' and no one can argue acting is wrong, creating a story and adding interest is so important in photography. But it's when you're passing it off as yourself that it can be dangerous. I think there is a lot of acting involved in posing, but sometimes, along with choosing the best photos and only taking pictures on your 'I feel alive' days- it can set a standard which isn't even real.
These are just some thoughts I’m nattering down, since being ‘fake’ online has been something I’ve been thinking about plenty recently. Actually, I can admit that it’s become a fear. Rightly or wrongly, it’s become a fear of not being honest enough, true enough, real enough. Let me know what you think on this too, it’s probably something we all think about at some point, just it is a subject that really interests me…
By the way, I’m currently writing this with an ice-pack pressed to my forehead because I stayed in the sun too long- not that that had much to do with anything, nor that I’m complaining; definitely not ever going to moan that there’s still sun strong enough to do that in September.