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.


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§ 3 Responses to Image in No Shirt

  • Magda Kapa says:

    George Szirtes wrote ‘More on the white shirt’ in his blog:

    How vulnerable are women, how vulnerable are men to their own physical beauty and that of others? How vulnerable are we to the loss of it? Who defined our self-perception as being beautiful or not? Ourselves or the eyes of others, these of our own parents, lovers, on-lookers?

    When do we break out of their mirrors?

    George and I are mostly asking these questions ourselves.


  • beth says:

    On my fortieth birthday – now 20 years ago – I remember asking my husband to take a photograph of me. He had come up into the room where I was exercising; I was wearing a grey athletic tank top and lifting weights, or some such thing. In the photographs I looked sweaty, healthy, strong, and I think now it was that impression — of strongness – that I must have wanted to preserve,, more than some notion of beauty. Being married to a photographer involves acceptance of a lifelong photographic record, but that particular instance was chosen by me, not by him. The gradual relinquishment of the attractiveness of our youthful bodies isn’t easy, nor is the process kind, but at the time there was a lot that I didn’t understand. When I look at photographs of myself taken recently, there is so much more strength than there was then, but it’s in my face, in my eyes.


  • Magda Kapa says:

    Thank you Beth for this honest and insightful response to my post.
    I read your today’s post on your blog about Hameke’s ‘Amour’ ( and I cannot stop thinking that everything is connected.
    Just like you, I don’t really fear old age but aging, and I also think that, most of us, don’t fear death (too abstract for our human minds) but we dread dying.
    I’ve been thinking a lot about ‘Amour’ too. I want to share my thoughts with you in your blog if I can sort them out.


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