The Question of Identity
August 24, 2011 § 7 Comments
Whether it’s candid or posed, Polaroid or Photoshopped, photographs have a way of telling the truth about us. They get our split-second expressions and our body language. They reveal things we don’t even know about ourselves. And talented photographers know how to tease this out.
Los Angeles photographer and filmmaker Judy Starkman did a series called “The Secret Life of Swimmers.” During her time swimming at the Culver City Plunge pool, she was struck by people who swam half-naked in the pool with strangers, the people dressed in work clothes who walked to their cars to go to some other life, and the transformation in between. So she took photos of her fellow swimmers and then visited them in their workplace, in their “secret life” and second identity.
Starkman says that the pool is “an equalizer.” Everyone is in the same situation; little remains of a carefully constructed identity. It reminds me of a woman who grew up under Taliban rule saying she preferred wearing a burqa because then the young and old, the beautiful and ugly, the rich and poor were on equal footing. See more swimmer photos here.
Sacha Goldberger (remember his superhero grandma project?) does a similar project featuring joggers in all their disheveled sweatiness after they’ve just run and a week later when they’ve showered, spruced up, and posed in the same position.
Goldberger tells My Modern Met that he “wanted to show the difference between our natural and brute side versus how we represent ourselves to society.” It’s interesting to think which reflects us more: the natural working out state or the fashion-based state that expresses our creativity and taste. Personally, this project only reinforces my aversion to running–I’ve never seen a runner look like they’re having fun. See more before and after photos here.
In her series and book 2nd: The Face of Defeat, Sandy Nicholson captures the people we never hear about — those second place winners who were close, but not enough, and thus forgettable. From Canada’s spelling bees to air guitar finals to ballroom dance, she lets those who’ve lost take the spotlight.
It’s an emotional moment, to be good but not first place good. Often the 2nd place people want to be a good sport, acknowledge the ecstatic winner, and hold their head up high (after all, 2nd place is still quite the achievement), but struggling with disappointment brings the mask down and we see their true selves. See more sad photos here.
Philippe Halsman found a way to capture people’s true identity through his “jumpology” series in the 1940s and 50s. He said, “When you ask a person to jump, his attention is mostly directed toward the act of jumping, and the mask falls, so that the real person appears.” The New York Times says the act of jumping “requires giving in to something like joy,” clearly evident in Halsman’s photo of Audrey Hepburn below.
See more mid-air photos here.
I think I’ve always been aware of this ability photographs have and as an introvert have gone a bit camera shy as much as I love being behind the camera. In my reluctance to join the Facebook crowd years ago, I began choosing profile pictures that didn’t quite share all of me with the mass public. Here are some of my past favorites in which I refuse to reveal my identity.
On the other hand, maybe they say quite a bit about me.