I’m not one for taking self-portraits. I know it’s a bit hypocritical to call yourself a portrait photographer and then be so entirely reticent to put yourself in front of the lens but there you go. I’m not the only photographer guilty of this. Recently a friend of mine photographed a really lovely scene in run down house where an armchair was positioned perfectly under the soft morning light coming in through a Velux window. It created a wonderful pool of light and I commented that the only thing that would improve the composition would be a subject in the chair. He replied he was there on his own and then in response to my suggestion he could/should have made a self portrait, said that one of the main reasons he got into photography was precisely so that he didn’t ever have to be in front of the lens. Like I said we’re all guilty.
There’s a school of thought that argues all portrait photographers should subject themselves to the glare of the lens as part of their own learning and creative development. I can engage with the sentiment but still it’s telling that it took a far more compelling experience to persuade me I should do this.
There’s nothing like being confronted with the fleeting nature of life to put you in a critically reflective frame of mind. Three days ago on my way in to work I had just such an experience. I was the first person to the aid of someone who had collapsed in the station. The experience was traumatic and the seriousness of the situation was immediately and viscerally apparent. The gentleman that others and I ran to help died while we were trying to help him before the paramedics arrived. They couldn’t revive him and we were left with the painful reminder of just how fleeting life is.
I try to be a good person and I mean no ill to anyone but I have always been a opinionated, argumentative son of a bitch. I'll argue black is white if I think there is enough debate in it. I don't mean ill, I just enjoy the discourse and the understanding that it brings, but my approach can be incredibly fatiguing. But this experience of being with someone in their very last moments caused me to reflect and think just how good a person am I; have I made the most of my life; have I made a difference to other people; have I been a douche bag? I decided that it was time I put myself in front of the camera.
I spent a lot of time talking about the experience and thinking about the answers to these questions. These self-portraits are a part of that process. I wanted to take a long hard look at myself, literally and metaphorically. On a superficial level I see someone looking back at me who needs to take better care of himself, loose some weight, get back to riding his bike, give his own heart a better chance of carrying on. On a deeper level I see someone scared of not making the most of the opportunities he has and becoming invisible to the world around him.