How to Disappear by Akiko Busch;


How to Disappear by Akiko Busch;

Author:Akiko Busch;
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Penguin Random House LLC
Published: 2019-02-11T16:00:00+00:00



SIX

AT THE IDENTITY SPA

I feel I’m anonymous in my work. When I look at the pictures, I never see myself; they aren’t self-portraits. Sometimes I disappear.

—CINDY SHERMAN

Not long ago, a classmate from high school emailed me an old photo of our graduating class. The usual range of reactions—nostalgia, delight, curiosity, wonder—washed over me. Who were we all then, that assembly of some sixty girls in our white dresses, lined up on the chapel steps on a spring morning? Some were looking directly at the camera, some laughing; others were distracted, looking away and hair blowing, one with her back turned entirely.

Of course, I looked for myself in the photograph. The face of one girl with long brown hair is partially hidden, and I wonder whether that is me. Another is looking away from the camera, and another is barely more than a smudge. I search for my own face, enlarging the photograph on the screen of my laptop to the point at which its magnified pixels become distorted, abstract shapes empty of information, before it finally comes to me: I had skipped the photo shoot! Anxious to be out of high school as fast as possible, and as irate, impatient, and dismissive of such pointless sentiment as only a teenager can be, I had bypassed the entire enterprise. Perhaps I had imagined that being out of the photo could put me out in the world more quickly and efficiently. Now, decades later, I would like to be included in this panoramic portrait of the past—which, I realize, is typical of the ambivalence we so often feel about our own disappearance. Sometimes it is what we crave and sometimes what we regret.

Even all those years ago, I knew the emotional power of slipping out of the picture. What was a minor act of transgression back then might today be a small piece of digital art. Absence as a social statement, possibly. Or today, I might just as easily photoshop myself into the picture, as a feminist assertion maybe, or an effort to reinvent the traditional graduation ceremony. Or perhaps I would do none of this, indifferent to this particular absence with the knowledge that my image was strewn across a variety of social media sites. Today, identity and images of coming and going, appearing and disappearing, have become part of visual culture. Since the eighties, Cindy Sherman’s self-portraits have offered a primer on the extravagance of modern personas. She poses as a faded film star, a renaissance painter, a Playboy centerfold, a clown, a career girl, a housewife, a socialite. There is no end to who she can claim to be through the use of makeup, costumes, prosthetics, darkroom technology, and digital manipulation. And if she is suggesting the self can be a mixtape, she also notes her own sense of anonymity and her knack for vanishing within the multitude of characters she has invented.

Since then, issues about identity have only become more prominent. We recognize variabilities in race, ethnicity, and gender.



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