Photography: Experimental Self Portraits With Screens

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I saw this on my computer screen when I had been doing some reading on identity and  researching the way text and image interact. For some reason it jumped out at me. I liked the idea of using a photograph of myself with this label attached: NO NAME.

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My name has changed several times over the course of my life. I got married and took on a new surname. Before that, I had changed my surname when I left local authority care. I picked an English sounding surname from my family tree for that as I felt my name was too obviously Jewish and I had begun to experience anti-Semitism. Like my relatives who came to England in the mid 1800s who changed their names from Renovitch or Rynewich to Goldberg, Goldstein and finally to Gould I also felt the need to hide part of my identity.

Because of this, I feel I have an understanding of how a change of name can change the way other people see you and the way you see yourself. In England, I think there are still class divisions in names, be that family names or first names, but most of us carry a mental image of what someone with a certain name might be like. Do we live up to that name? What if we had no name at all?

My name, if you haven’t already gathered from this site, is Sarah. I feel it carries a certain weight of responsibility, a certain seriousness. I am named for my grandmother’s sister who died when she was a child and so it gives me a link to the past and a very strong link to my maternal grandmother’s family more than any other part of my family. I have a link with Sadie (as she was known by her siblings) who died when she was 5 years old; as her life was cut so short I feel a kind of responsibility to live for both of us.

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Something else I think of as a strong part of my identity is my hair. So having obscured my name, I wanted to obscure my hair too. Taking photos from the computer screen is a part of doing this, a part of obscuring myself. So I’ve taken the photos of the photos several times and the distortions get worse and worse which I like.

Wearing a wig:

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Using Enlight to mask and recolour my hair:

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Next I used an image of myself I’d taken at my mum’s home where I suffered a lot of traumatic experiences. I remember looking at myself in the mirror here when I was a small child on a day when things were turning particularly strange. At that time I had seen myself in my school uniform (which included a beret and blazer), totally reliant on a set of adults who seemed to have no sense of reality, no reason and not an ounce of common sense between them who refused to listen to anything I said because I was a child. Now I see someone very different but sometimes I still feel the same about the world. The excuses for not listening have changed now, or perhaps I’m just saying things that some people just can’t or won’t hear. But my mum’s illness seems to be another part of my identity and so I wanted to express it through these images.

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The original image

 

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What really fascinated me about these images was that I could print them up and at a distance I could still see that it was me. There is something poignant in that for me somehow, but I am too close to it to fully verbalise it. I suppose that despite having had counselling for a long time to try and overcome the issues with PTSD my mum’s mental illness and the abuse I subsequently suffered has caused me, it expressed the idea that I can’t really get rid of the experiences in myself and that I cannot obscure them either.  I just have to find a way to transform this very negative set of experiences into something positive. That’s something I will probably be working on for the rest of my life.

I’ve then thought about views, parts, angles. Concentrating on my face suggests an intellectual bent to all of this I suppose, but I have made similar images exploring parts of my body, although never really my body as a whole, always just its parts. It’s almost like taking myself apart and putting myself back together again.

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