Soul discovery via self-portraiture

Me and my doves, 2020.

I’ve spent the majority of my life hating myself. It’s not like one thing happened that changed me forever, but rather a thousand tiny things happened  and the pain compounded over time.  This year, in all of its unprecedented isolation, has gifted with me with ample time to heal. I got sober (245 days ago, as I write this), started meditating daily, got a therapist, started a vegetarian diet, and fell in love with yoga again. Before the global pandemic, I did not think I deserved any of these things. Why? I don’t know, exactly. 

I’ve really fought self-portraiture as a genre since sometime after age 12 or 13, when I took photos for MySpace. Perhaps some of you know what I mean when I say: if you hate yourself, you don’t want to be yourself, and if you don’t want to be yourself then you certainly don’t want to see yourself.

It makes sense, then, that starting in my early 20s I decided I wanted to make work about other people. I made work about people who seemed so *unlike* me that I had to use an artistic process to understand what it meant to be human on planet earth.  And I still think there’s value in that. But what started happening was a slow erasure of the self. In lieu of living my own life, I chose to spend my time watching other people live their’s.  

There’s a particularly damaging line of thought that I internalized as a photojournalist and later as a documentary photographer: “Act like you’re not there. Disappear. Be a fly on the wall.” I applied this notion to all of my work for at least six years. Eventually I applied this *watch me disappear!* tactic to all aspects of ‘my’ life.

But that’s changing. I’m here, I’m alive, I’m well, and I have a bunch of camera stuff that I can use to prove it. It took until October for me to want to be in front of the camera and explore who I am not just on the inside, but what that looks like on the outside too. It was a transcendental experience akin to psychedelic drugs. Yes folks, art is a mind-altering drug.

Diversifying my artistic practice with still life and self-portraiture has allowed me to find my soul again. Sunny is just who you’d think she’d be (given her name): warm, fun, welcoming, compassionate and sometimes intense.  This week, I’m starting a substance abuse counseling program with the hopes of helping other addicts understand the power of art and healing. Because it’s not that I think art can save your life, I know it can.

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