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Photo Credit: Jeremy Holder · The Sentry

X-Ray Vision

I’m bad at selfies, and I usually hate other photos of myself, so when I’m doing portraits of someone and they’re uncomfortable, I honestly understand.

I mean, I’ve never actually seen my own face. I’ve seen my (flipped) face in a mirror, and I’ve seen photos of my face, and yeah, I can see the end of my nose. But I don’t actually know what I look like in the way that I know what my friends look like. 

It’s a weird thing. “Seeing” with our eyes is a different experience than looking at a photo of someone or ourselves in the mirror—there’s something in between, and it changes the whole experience. So why do we bother taking photos of ourselves?

Why do we specifically have other people who specialize in doing that for us? If you want to think about it historically, why did painters bother with human faces, whether they were being realistic about it or abstract?

We’re a bunch of social animals, us humans, and we can pick up things about each others’ personalities (our true selves, just manifested in our outsides) by looking at those very outsides. 

As a photographer, the most rewarding feeling is when I make an image that conveys who someone is by the setting I photograph around them, capturing a distinctive and sincere facial expression or by how I do all the technical stuff like framing, angles, and which lens I choose.

But at the same time, the most revealing portrait of someone will never come close to all that person is, and an inaccurate one doesn’t change who they are. 

Remember: none of us are the photos of us. At best, they’re a sort of abstract before the long paper, a preface (excuse the pun?). Our outsides are clues to who we are, and it’s fascinating to try to put them together, but we may never know the entirety of anyone but ourselves.

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