Image in No Shirt
October 31, 2012 § 3 Comments
Inspired by George Szirtes’ post, “Image in a white shirt“
The day I turned forty I took a photo of my naked torso. Not for posterity, of course; I certainly don’t want my son and his descendants carrying around these kinds of snapshots of me. But the fear of aging prompted me to somehow preserve the memory of my body the way it was right at that moment: still relatively young, still relatively attractive. This might’ve been the end of the story, but a couple of months ago I went looking for the photo (which I’d buried in an almost forgotten electronic data hole) and realized I’d accidentally deleted it along with a bunch of other data. Suddenly I was terribly distressed about its loss; I mourned it as if I’d lost a year of my life.
After some painful introspection, I discovered another reason I’d taken that photograph: to use later as a control instrument for my appearance. I, the “I” of three years after, should be able to control the “I’s” body now with the help of the “I’s” photo from before. How much had “I” changed during that time? The camera, and then the photo, would become a mirror through which I could see the “I” that the eyes of my contemporaries saw. Vain? Insane? Who knows? I’ll never eye that now. But in a strange way, I found out more about myself from the loss of the photo than by looking at it.
I snapped a photo of myself with no shirt on. Were I a man, I might have taken a photo of myself in a white shirt, and imagined it in the hands of my descendants decades later. It’s this pressure to be something representable, presentable, or preservable that turns some of us — most of us, I dare say — into pillars of salt in front of a camera lens long before the inevitable stillness of our image appears in the photo.