Inside the Secret Family: Self-Portrait in White. ©Copyright 2014 Anjani Millet
Our family, like so many, seems fraught with mystery and intrigue. On a sunny afternoon last week, I decided to capture as best I could the feeling of being a member of my sometimes strange and secretive family. I shot this series of self-portraits using mixed light – natural daylight and two speedlites (flash units), one on camera, and one behind the door without a modifier (softbox, umbrella, etc.) Here is the first of the series.
A few years ago I found $50 I had tucked into a dictionary long before. I had hidden it there years before as a little gift from me to me, which I knew I’d forget putting there but would find one day. “When I do”, my past self thought, “I will probably feel loved and remembered.” I went to the bank and pulled out the money, tucking it in between the letters L and M, tucked it away for a future self who didn’t yet exist.
Two years later, as I was looking up the spelling for Langoliers, (a horrible movie!), the bill sussurred out from between the pages and tickled itself all the way down my legs and onto the floor. I felt the kindness and compassion of my former self flooding into the present moment, like a sweet, chalky perfume I’d once loved and nearly forgotten. It was me who had so thoughtfully made this effort, who who really cared about me all the way back then. I felt swept up in compassion from my own, former self. In that moment, I was at a time of struggle which I could never have foreseen back then.
It’s much easier to look backward – after all, we know the person we were before. Or do we? And looking into our future selves is even more nebulous – we know we’ll be the same person, sort of, but that person does not really yet exist. In six months from now, maybe we’ll have put on a pound or two over the holidays, but still be basically happy. Or perhaps will we find it in 16 years, after, who knows, a major financial windfall and the start of a new love affair, or after we’ve strangely gotten into the most amazing shape of our lives and finally gotten that job we always want?
Or maybe, when we stretch out our thoughts to ourselves in the future, we’ll reach into a void of pain and loss. When we stretch out to the future, we grasp the wispy suggestion of what and who we might in general. That person might be happy when they find this gift… but then again, she may need a little encouragement… or maybe a lot.
Sipping Coffee with Shadows
Why do self-portraits matter? Why do we really do them? Is it just to capture a moment, as if we were a tourist visiting our own lives? “Here I am, with my new hat!” Or “Look at me! I’ve in the bathroom at a fancy hotel!”
Maybe. But in a deeper way, I believe we photograph ourselves to tell ourselves our own story, to ourselves – it is always the story of I. The true purpose of self-portraits is to make a gift of ourselves to our future selves. Maybe, when we create a self-portrait, we are trying to see into our own eyes – the ones that will be, down the road, one nebulous, unknown day. When we photograph ourselves, we are talking to ourselves across time and, truly, across realities – in the moment we shoot a self-portrait, we are real – flesh and blood. But our future self is only the tiniest twinkle in our own eyes now. And if we try, yes, we can love that person. Loving our future selves will make a present day, some day, just that much sweeter.
But today, in the present moment, our past self is really only a memory, and the only proof that we lived exists in the form of photographs.
What if, some day in the future, when we really need it, we feel the hand of our real self from the past touching our lives? Who was thinking of us, loving us into the unknown days and years ahead? What if, through a self-portrait of encouragement, we make a tangible reach from the past into the current moment, when the two of us come together, our eyes looking into our own eyes, past to future, and back again? Maybe when we look into our own eyes from the past, we will feel the hair brushed from our face today, a warm hand tugging on our sleeve, an old friend arriving unexpectedly on our porch, bringing us chocolate cake on a Sunday morning for no good reason at all except that they love us?
But who does that? Who loves someone who doesn’t even exist yet? Who leaves them gifts they know they’ll find?
You do, that’s who.
And this is the real reason for self-portraits. We do them for love.
Even more so if the gift you give your future self is simply encouragement and kindness when you might need it the most. This is what I discovered last week when I found a self-portrait I’d shot two years ago in Spain. I was standing on the balcony of a beautiful room overlooking the Mediterranean coast, in Begur. I’d just attended a travel writer’s conference and we were given gorgeous accommodations in exchange for writing about the our experiences in each hotel. I couldn’t believe my life had taken me there. I couldn’t believe my feet were on that balcony and my eyes were seeing that sumptuous blue water, or that my skin was soaking in the buttery Spanish fall sunlight. I couldn’t believe my life, somehow, through some luck and a lot of hard work, had gotten me there. It was blowing my mind. I picked up a camera, not to capture a snapshot of the place. It was a private moment. I was alone, and I wanted to say something about what I felt. I wanted to talk about my life in the poignant silence of a photograph.
Yesterday I found the photo as I was looking preparing to edit something else. I didn’t even remember taking it. I opened it up and what I saw was strength, certainty, and calm in my face; I looked happy. I remember feeling as if I were resting deeply in my own perfect path, as if at last I were resting deeply in the arms of my dreams. I saw something else too – the lack of questions in my eyes. No. I saw no questions. I saw only answers. I made that self-portrait not to share where I was, though I was on a balcony in Spain, overlooking the sea. I made it as a statement of encouragement, a one-way conversation between me and me, that would occur at an unknown date in the future. That date was today.
I’m at the tail-end of two full years living nothing but questions, one tumbling across my life right another, and another, a turbulent river I can barely seem to climb out of. It’s felt as if my mind has been drowning in unknowns for so long that I’d forgotten what it’s like not only to know, but to not even need to know. I didn’t remember I was that person – the person who knew, until I looked into those eyes – my own eyes, two years before.
Yes. I feel loved and remembered, by me, by my past me.
And so, where are you? Are you strong right now? Do you have even a moment here or there that you feel certain? Happy? Strong? Confident? Or even just amused by and affectionate toward yourself? Or do you wish you did?
When you do, tell no one your plan: grab your camera and dress up a little, for yourself. Go to a place you love and feel loved – even if it’s the tiniest corner of your own kitchen. Relax in your chest. Hold the camera before you, and relax your eyes. This a private moment, between you and you. Look into and straight past the lens into your own eyes, your own soul, your own future self who will need this one day. As you look, relax your irises, feel them really relax and dilate. Then, when you feel kind and open and at ease, pick up the camera, bring it close to you, with your elbows bent – and imagine – know – you are speaking to yourself through yourself, one into another, now to then. Don’t worry about smiling. Just breathe your kindest, softest breath of gentle, loving kindness toward your own heart, and take the shot.
Don’t look at it yet. Put the camera down. If you felt uneasy or worried, put the camera down. Have a sip of tea. Look out at the yard. You live, and you are good. Shoot again when you feel you have more to say to yourself, when you feel more open, when you arrive at the feeling you want to wrap up in a soft bundle and offer it through your eyes.
Now you can review the photo if you can. Be careful not to judge yourself now – you want to stay very open and gentle in your feelings. If you would prefer a different moment, then relax, breathe, try it again. Sip that tea.
When you feel you have really captured a feeling you love and cherish that you might like to feel again one day, save it on your computer to a file called A Gift To Me, or Photos To My Future Self. If you can, email it to yourself on a certain day, or attach it to a calendar appointment 1 year from now. Surprise yourself with it. Print it, and put it in a book you know you’ll read, and label the photo like a gift card: “This too shall pass,” or “You are good,” or “Hi. It’s me. I like you.”
Save this photographic moment of encouragement somewhere you’ll be sure to find again one day. In this way, with a camera, say yes to kindness and save it for a rainy day. It’s a gift made by your hands, and your eyes, and it’s just for you, bundled up warmly in the form of a loving, thoughtful photograph.
One day, you too might feel loved and remembered by the past, who cared for you before you even existed.
If you try this, or ever have, write me and tell me your story. I’d love to hear it.
Only good things,
Anjani Millet, Behind the Scenes
Your truly! Many thanks to my friend and photographer Lori Patrick who shot this at our Photographer’s Vintage Tea Party.
from Instagram: http://ift.tt/1o7gdAo
PechaKucha – Telling Tales
Pecha Kucha Seattle and BAM are joining forces again for PKN SEA v. 48: Telling Tales. The evening will bring together presentations exploring the theme of storytelling, inspired by BAM’s Telling Tales and Rick Araluce exhibitions. The event will be held on Friday, November 1, 6:30 – 8:30 PM, 2013 at the Bellevue Arts Museum.
Anjani will be reading from her new work of fictional photography, Twig Prayers.
The meadow was bathed in orange evening light, the velvety summer air smooth and luxurious on our bare shoulders. For photographers, this is the God Hour. The stunning backdrop of the crunchy summer meadow, its tall, reedy plants swaying and scratching each other in the breeze, was almost unbearably beautiful. We were wrapping up. The final shot, the model directly in front of the setting sun, and my friend Meggan Joy, the photographer, had asked me to shoot behind the scenes shots for her while she shot a senior portrait, along with her husband.
None of us realized that resting somewhere in this vast amber meadow was a little yellow bird and a big, black SUV. The police pulled the big machine up behind our cars, blocking us in, and bellowed from their windows to go back to our cars immediately. I was elated to have gotten that last shot, and wondered what the hell was happening.
As we handed over our ID’s and registration, the shorter of the two short men informed us that we were trespassing into a protected area, due to the presence in this meadow of an endangered species. From under his authority-imbued eyebrows, he informed us that we were on Federal land, and could potentially be arrested for trespassing, or heavily fined, or have our cars impounded, or all of the above. The second stood on the far side of my car, looking in through my passenger window. He seemed to be willing my camera, pregnant with amber-lit shots and waiting in the front seat, to give up its secrets.
They were tough alright, with their black car/crewcuts/uniforms/guns. But even a bad ass cop looks less fierce when, after I ask him what exactly is the name of the endangered animal, answers a little meekly, “Oh, well…I believe it’s called a Streak Horned Lark.” Turns out this little lark is on the “proposed” list for endangerment, but is not yet. Good news! It was obvious we were only there photographing, and had no idea we were potentially harming any birds. We had followed back roads and simply did not see the signs.
After 30 minutes, we were duly and sternly warned and free to go, and given instructions about how to purchase a permit for the future. In the meantime, we walked away with beautiful, sunset shots from the God Hour, and I was pleased to know there are police out there patrolling on behalf of innocent birds nesting on the ground. As it turns out, the bird has been proposed to be endangered, though is not official yet. Nonetheless, one mustn’t cause unnecessary tweets of the actual variety.
The Streak Horned Lark is lucky to have bad ass cops, a gorgeous, open meadow, and plenty of God Light every single day. That’s a beautiful thing.
If you’d like to learn more, click here for a bit more information about this little bird – the original kind, strictly tweeting offline.
My dog Henry was telling me all about how he swiped the New York Times Sunday crossword and completed the whole thing in pen before I got out of bed. “Yeah, sure, that’s just hilarious,” I said…Copyright 2013 Anjani Millet
© Copyright 2012 Anjani Millet; All Rights Reserved.
Anjani in Kathmandu, Nepal
Yesterday, trekked down from snowy mountain monastery cabin to tea with a smiling holy dude. Today, Nepal. In what land of dubious comprehension did I gather that Kathmandu was charming, cozy Ski-Town-lite? OH.MY.GOD. Sorry, no city of 10 million (seriously?!?) can be cozy. Coming straight from Bhutan (entire population not yet 700,000), where Visa cards have yet to arrive, this is a SHOCK. New York can’t rival this. I am hiding in my hotel for a second until I catch my breath. Staying at the (evidently lovely by Kathmandu standards) Nirvana Garden, which is, in fact, gardeny, in the Thimel area. Can’t vouch for Nirvana yet.
Amusement at immigration at Kathmandu airport, to obtain visitor visa, told by officer, “That will be $25 please. Sorry, we do not take Nepalese money.”
I am confused already.