Self Image, Photography and Identity in the Digital Era

self portrait- anisotropic imagesEver wonder why seeing yourself in a photo or on video can be an uncomfortable experience?  Or why hearing your own voice played back sounds “weird”?  Much of it has to do with our formed self image.  Each of us has a mental self image that we have constructed over time.  We base that self image upon the information received every day.  Our brain forms an idea of “what do I look like?” from daily visual data, which for most us is what we seen in the mirror.  Think about how many times per day you see yourself in a mirror.  That repetitive data input is what your brain bases its self image upon, but that image is reversed from reality.  So when you see a picture of yourself- un-reversed- it can look odd.  Our brain knows it’s us, but something is not quite right.  The same is true for hearing your own voice.  How you think your voice sounds is based upon the resonance through the bones in your skull so when it is played back to you without that resonance, things sound odd.

So what does this have to do with the digital era?   Well, if you hadn’t noticed there is an entire generation of people who grew up with camera phones in hand and for whom snapping a “selfie” is a daily (if not hourly!) ritual.  Clearly this generation is already more comfortable with the self portrait!  At the same time, those images can be easily manipulated at whim.  So the question I have is how that affects the formation of self image?  Not how it affects self confidence, as has been recently postulated, but how does the constant exposure to self portraits and digitally manipulated images change the recognition of self?  Does it expand it from what is to a larger conception of what could be?  Or does it make self recognition more difficult?

As a scientist these questions fascinate me, but I am not set up to answer them.  That work will have to be left to others.  But as an artist, it is something I am exploring in great depth.  I’ll talk about it at length when I write about the “Mirror Series” and how it came about.

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