a peek inside the fishbowl

22 May, 2022

My sort-of-secret daily photo project is done

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Photography

I wrote the bulk of this blog post over a year ago, in April 2021, about two weeks into a 365/daily selfie project. What follows below what I wrote back then, with the inserted occasional reflection from April/May 2022. I’m not sure why it’s taken me this long to sort out my thoughts and hit the publish button on this.  Perhaps because it’s personal? Pressing publish in 3,2,1… 

There are very few photos of myself that I actually like. Here is a terrible yet honest confession: I don’t believe I fall within that spectrum of what is traditionally considered “good looking.” (Chiming in from 2022: What is good looking anyway? Frig. This goes deep man.) I’m rather pointy and splotchy in places and I kinda hate my teeth, but for the most part I am ok and accepting of this. I have “good” days and “bad” days and I write this knowing how subjective it all is, hence the quotes.

And a byproduct of that, of course, is if you don’t like photos of yourself, your loved ones will inevitably see you deleting photos of yourself and complaining bitterly. And whether they realize it or not they will stop taking photos of you. They don’t mean to do this, but it happens, and then you disappear from your family’s own narrative.

The idea of taking 365 self-portraits, one a day for a calendar year, isn’t new or original, but it is the right project for me at this point in my life.

Are selfies an exercise in vanity? I used to think so but I don’t believe this any more. It’s something I’ve thought a lot about and realized there is nothing wrong with a person documenting their life in this way. It’s not vain. There’s nothing wrong with someone being proud of their appearance. There’s nothing wrong with loving yourself and sharing that love publicly. I believe it is good to celebrate ourselves, and this is one way to do it.

I started taking a photo of myself every day on the youngest’s birthday. I thought it was an auspicious time to launch into something like this. I floundered, and I still am in a way.

I have asked myself all kinds of ridiculous questions around the “rules” of this undertaking. Is it “cheating” if I take 20 photos and choose a favourite? Should I force myself to smile? Should I include my whole face and not just part of it (something I tend to do a lot)? Should I try for “arty”? Should I try to look “pretty”? Will people look at these and think, ‘Wow, there’s a lady who’s desperately trying to look good and not really pulling it off.’ ?

I edited my project rules as I went but they eventually became something like this:

  • No filters, “portrait mode,” or photo touch ups or edits.
  • Most of my face must be shown. The goal is an honest photo every day for 365 days, snapped on my iPhone.
  • I can take as many as I like and my final pick for that day may or may not be the “pretty” one.
  • I choose the setting. Bonus points if they weren’t in my home office every day… it is, after all, a pandemic.

I am compelled to upload them to my Flickr account but am wilting at the thought of pressing the publish button. I am really wrestling with whether to make the photos public or not. I doubt anyone wants to see my mug every day… and what do I hope to achieve anyway? This is something I’ve thought about with every photo I snap of myself. Why am I doing this, exactly? Perhaps it’s as simple as proving that I exist, or trying to become more comfortable with my own face (WHY IS THIS EVEN A QUESTION! IT’S MY FACE!), or doing something outside of my comfort zone that I know is also important in ways I can’t even fully express.

Maybe I’ll eventually learn how to take a better photo of myself. Again, what is better exactly? Maybe I will grow to like photos of myself?

That’s all I wrote about this, in a notebook back in April 2021. You will of course notice the self-reflection clouded with self-doubt. (I also jotted down two words in the margins of that entry: Justine Bateman. I know it was in reference to this Vanity Fair article.)

How we feel about our own appearance, our rank, in a world that celebrates youth and beauty, runs deep. First, there is personal baggage. How we were made to feel during our younger years probably has an effect on how we feel later on. Then there is the aging thing. I am tempted to say that the age/beauty discussion hits women a little harder but I know men struggle with it as well. In my own experience I have observed that we tend to disappear as we age. Of course I mean that metaphorically. I am not a ghost, although it sure feels like it when I’m waiting to be noticed at the store, or as the cashier just stands there wordlessly, hands by their side, waiting for me to notice how much my groceries are costing me that week.

I don’t know if my selfie game has improved very much at all this past year but I figured out a few things about lighting, my iPhone, my ANGLES. Ugh. You can look at the set right here. There are actually 367 photos in this album. There were two days I forgot to post a photo, and a couple extras on other days. I have my favourites. Some of them are definitely not pretty, but they are honest. There were days when I felt sick, tired, raw, scared, sad. I didn’t want to gloss over these days, or be that person who pretends.

I will say that I am happy to have documented a year of my life in a different way (at least to me). It’s a visual journal of 365 moments that are unique to me; to this time in which we are living. I like to imagine what it would be like if I had 365 photos of my grandmother, not just posed in a studio or on her wedding day, but while she was at the beach, making a meal, at the doctor’s office, or tired after a long day.

What I didn’t mention in those scribbles from a year ago was the fact that I booked a professional portrait shoot with Ottawa photographer, Sara McConnell Photography as part of this project. She’s taken photos of our family before, so for my 49th birthday in August I gifted myself a solo session with her in the gardens at the Experimental Farm.

Here are a couple of the photos she took:

Me!

Me 2!

I 100% recommend mothers (and fathers!) get out from behind the camera every once in awhile and have a professional portrait taken. I grant you that we live in a digital age and photos are easier than ever to come by, but having your photo taken by someone who knows what they’re doing is something else altogether. Sara is wonderful at putting people at ease and coaxing out a good photo, even if you are the self-conscious type.

Some of you who have known me for awhile might remember that I farmed myself out as a family portrait photographer once upon a time. I did headshots too. Between that and taking photos for my local newspaper, I met many women who hated having their photos taken, almost as much as me. They’d say things like: “I look terrible” and “Can you make me look thinner” and “There’s a filter for these wrinkles, right”? Maybe they were kidding, maybe they weren’t, but it happened often enough that I felt that slivers of truth were being revealed in those offhand statements. It was almost enough to make me cry, because I didn’t see the wrinkles or splotches or the baby weight. Truly, all I saw was their beautiful smiles, sparkling eyes, the love they had for their families… and there was so much beauty in that. Why couldn’t they see what I was seeing?

But back to my session with Sara. I booked it partly as an “add on” to my 365 selfie project but it was also around that time that I was perusing a couple hundred photos from a family camping trip. As I scrolled past photos of sunsets and beaches and wildlife and beautiful photos of the kids and the husband I realized there were barely any of me. This may seem melodramatic but I felt as if I wasn’t even part of this wonderful trip but really, I only blame myself for this. I am the one behind the camera, documenting family things, but I suspect there are few photos of me because I am so annoying about it. When I saw photos of myself I used to think: Am I really this pointy/squinty/lumpy/shiny/spotty/jiggly? and then delete delete delete. Well, after a year of taking photos of myself I accept that while I might be those things sometimes I am also smiley, sparkly, and most importantly, alive. I am here. There is only one me. I love, and I am loved.

Some other photo projects:

 


3 Responses to "My sort-of-secret daily photo project is done"

1 | Sara

May 25th, 2022 at 10:59 pm

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I love this so much. I had no idea that after looking at a years worth of photos, how much I’d feel that I *know* you. It’s amazing what is conveyed in a selfie: the emotion, your interests, the seasons, the people you love.

2 | Jaye MacAskill

May 27th, 2022 at 12:56 pm

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I love that you did this. Your post touches on a lot of different point, to all of which I will simply say “agreed.”

3 | Jaye MacAskill

May 27th, 2022 at 12:56 pm

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*”points”

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The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human offspring: Emma (23) and Sarah (21). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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