I look in the mirror
And fix my mask
To face the day
I took this photo yesterday. I wanted a photo for a new profile pic for my social media sites and possibly for an about the author photo. I’d been meaning to practise taking more self-portraits as well (mainly to experiment on myself first so I can feel more comfortable directing lighting and poses) so I thought this would be a good start too.
I’m usually quite difficult to photograph so this is quite a good one for me. Most photos of me come out looking a little strained and flat. The reason is because it’s quite hard to capture a posed photo of someone when they’re in pain a lot of the time; sitting still and holding a pose is difficult and I usually look better in more spontaneous photos. They tend to capture the real me, not the me hiding his face behind a mask.
I think we all wear masks in life; there is the real us and then there is the persona we want others to see, the mask we wear to project an image we find desirable. I find with chronic pain that is doubly true as I don’t want people to see I’m in pain and so I have a carefully created mask I wear that I only take off when I’m alone or with very close family and friends. It helps to hold me together in public and let me function when the pain is awful and for me, my smile and my sense of humour are my mask. They help deflect questions and attention and tell people I’m okay.
The haiqua above is very much a reflection of my daily routine; before I go out or see someone, I always look at myself in the mirror and make sure my mask is in place. Sometimes it is harder than others depending on how much pain I am in or how tired I am but I never go out without practising a smile and making sure it is in place.
Ironically though that mask usually tends to fail with posed portraits like this. I can’t sit still and hold a pose for long very easily and trying to hold a smile in place tends to end up looking rather strained or flat in the photo. That’s why I quite like this photo as it doesn’t have that look and for once I got it without having to take a few dozens photos to capture it. That could have been luck or maybe it’s that I’m now starting to understand more about posing and so I’m starting to get better at capturing the real me sooner.
I could have done more with it; some gentle lighting across my face would have softened my face and removed some of the shadows under my eyes and a flash might have created a little more separation. But to be honest I didn’t want to do any of that. This is close to the real me and the real me usually does have those flaws and shadows from being tired and in pain. If the goal was to try to capture the real me then removing those wouldn’t be an accurate representation.
I also like that there isn’t too much separation and you can see the photo frames and some of my books etc properly. They’re a part of my life and I wanted to show that too and make it more of an environmental portrait.
I took this photo at the same time and converted it to black and white in Lightroom afterward. I like it as well, particularly the black tones, but you can probably see my expression is a little more strained in it. I thought it was a useful comparison anyway.
Photos and Haiqua © CJ Levinson 2016