I don’t know why I can’t ever take on anything small. Or why once I start to get a picture in my head of something I can’t stop rolling it over, tweaking it, and messing with it. It gets very confusing for me to follow myself, let alone to try to relate it to someone else. I suppose it’s unusual to do this sort of thing in public. I don’t think about it that much, until something reminds me.
It’s been a weird couple of days. For the first time, someone physically recognized me from these pages— rather than finding these pages because they knew me. I was standing outside a building on campus smoking. A girl said “hey Jeff” or something to that effect. “I know you!” She looked vaguely familiar. But I couldn’t place her. Then she explained. “I ended up on your website on some sort of weird search . . . I saw your ogre photo. . . .” I can’t recall her name (I’m terrible that way) but she’s finishing a Ph.D. in English, and was there on campus teaching a class in marketing. We had a nice conversation, and I ended up explaining why I was looking at rhetoric programs instead of English. It comes down to being interested in everything, and not wanting to be tied down to literature alone. I said that I tend to write about too many different things to be satisfied otherwise. She said, “yes, I got that idea from your site.”
Talking to Krista the next day, she said “I don’t think you realize just how much its possible to learn about you from your site.” I freely assent that anyone who has read what I write here for any length of time can rapidly figure out that I’m more than a little bit neurotic, manic depressive, and above all else my hunger probably comes across fairly accurately. I’m obsessed with representation, and I try to represent my thoughts, feelings, and general attitudes as accurately as possible. I am well aware how hard such a project is, and given that I have a small audience to play to here in Arkansas, it has been exhilarating to try to relate some small piece of me to a larger audience without being too boring, morose, or too tied to the specific, resulting in a big pile of self-involved crap.
That’s the primary problem with portraiture. That was one of the directions my work as a photographer was evolving, and the audience for portraiture is narrowed by the desire to connect, or know more (outside the frame) about the person who is in it. Most (non-art) people have no interest whatsoever in pictures of people they don’t know. It’s a major challenge to get a lay audience to even look at them.
Portraits can be the most intense form of lying, when the representation doesn’t have anything to do with the reality of the person in it. There has to be some connection of thought, feeling, or desire to get someone to look at a portrait. I think that’s why celebrity portraiture is the only form that gets much attention. Portraiture is torn between the impulse to universalize (the person represented could be you) and to particularize (the person is different from you, from anyone).
For me, blogs are like that. The ones I love are filled with personality. Some of them are lies. Some of them I identify with. Some of them are incredibly different from me. I think that this aspect of representing yourself on the Internet follows many of the same forms, and conventions, as portraiture. People oscillate between an idealized vision of themselves, and a raw version with every hair, mole, and wrinkle standing out. But always, the goal is to connect to someone else in some way. There is no standard, no generalized prescription for representation. Only different ways of authorizing it as something worthy of attention.
Sometimes, this seems like a dusty album that belongs at the back of a drawer somewhere— moments of thought and feeling that pass as soon as they are uttered. I’m never the same from one day to the next, yet parts of me do seem constant and unchanging. Sometimes, it seems more like a giant atlas of places I’ve been, useful for research, useful because it contains a frozen moment of a fleeting congruence. I look up things that I haven’t thought about in a while sometimes and look at them and make fun of myself for being so stupid and ill-informed.
When I pulled out the Aperture special issue on David Wojnarowicz a couple of days ago, I remember how much it blew me away when I first saw it. It still does. I admire him as an artist not because he is the same as I am, but because he is so profoundly different. Sometimes, difference is good. I wish I had written about it then. I’m curious what I might have said. But the last few years are hanging around here, for praise or damnation, for anyone to see. It doesn’t bother me, really. When I started doing this it was with the feeling that I still have— that there is nothing, besides life-itself, left for me to lose. Now that’s a scary— and big— thought.
Recognition contains within it two amazing roots— re, which means to do something again, or to look deeper— and cognition— to think about it.