Reflection on defining myself

In the course of working on CAN assignment 3, Putting yourself in the picture, I spent a lot of time thinking about the questions, What defines me? And where can it be found? I found it really difficult to find answers to these questions. I work alone and independently on several different kinds of project, so don’t have a professional identity, a job title, or even a set of tasks that I can use as a shorthand to tell people about the way I spend my time. I am single and have no children so don’t define myself in relation to a family situation except in the sense of being unattached. Eighteen months ago I moved to a new city when my decades-long relationship ended abruptly and unexpectedly, so neither my home nor my location reveal very much about me.

After finding that I was unable to convey any deep sense of myself via my surroundings or circumstances I began to think about the question of who I am essentially, what it is that makes me uniquely me. Something I had already discovered in the previous year as I reconnected with old friends from different periods in my life is that people do have a core essence that is immutable and instantly recognisable even after decades without contact. There is a split-second adjustment as the mind’s-eye image is updated, then you see the same person you knew 30, 40, even 50 years ago, with the same mannerisms, gestures and facial expressions.

I decided to see if I could find my own essential self by sifting through my photo boxes to create a chronological chain of pictures of myself, and was surprised to find that I felt I could see in many of the images not just who I was then but also who I am now, in exactly the same way that I recognised my old friends in their present form. I decided to recreate some of the images to investigate more objectively whether the same me was still visible. I made many attempts to capture the right stance and facial expression for each recreation, and although I didn’t manage to get any of them exactly right I nevertheless felt that the two versions captured something constant in me as well as some changes – not just the obvious physical ones but more subtle ones too. However, I began to feel that I was drifting away from the autobiographical brief into an exploration of identity, so after playing around with the concept for a few days I decided to shelve it for now with a view to potentially revisiting it in my next module, Identity and Place.

Update 2 November 2018

In the months since writing this post on 12 July I have continued to play around with placing myself beside or into old photos of myself to see if this provides clues to what makes me me and whether I’m the same me now as I was then, and with a view to possibly expanding this idea into my response to assignment 5. But after trying out a number of different ways of juxtaposing the two versions of myself (examples below) I didn’t feel any of them really addressed these questions in the way I hoped. I looked into getting the image pairs printed as single lenticular prints, which I felt might give more sense of the simultaneous closeness and distance of the two versions of myself, but found that it costs literally hundreds of pounds to get them made. I considered attempting to make them myself but was unable to find a UK source for the lens sheets, so I have tucked that possibility and this project away for potential future investigation and now intend to use a different idea for assignment 5.