I dislike watching myself on screen. When it’s something I’ve acted in, there’s a sort of disconnect involved. When I act, I am “other,” and being presented with incontrovertible evidence of my having been present at the time results in a sort of inner dissonance for me. I never remember having acted once I’ve done it. It’s like waking up. I may have dreamed, but I don’t remember actually sleeping. So watching myself act is like watching myself sleep. It’s creepy and makes me uncomfortable.
The flip side of this is that I’m highly self-critical, and watching myself only causes me to catalogue everything I did wrong. (I’m the same with my writing; it’s ages before I can read something I’ve written because, no matter how many people say it’s brilliant, I’ll immediately find something I wish I’d worded differently.)
And home movies are worse because I’m always hyperaware of being on camera as myself, and I hate it.
But I love photographs.
I love how, even when posed, a photograph reveals something about the people in it. One cannot disguise themselves completely in a snapshot. You can try, but there’s always a tell. Jackson Browne said it best in the first verses of “Fountain of Sorrow”:
Looking through some photographs I found inside a drawer
I was taken by a photograph of you
There were one or two I know that you would have liked a little more
But they didn’t show your spirit quite as true
You were turning ’round to see who was behind you
And I took your childish laughter by surprise
And at the moment that my camera happened to find you
There was just a trace of sorrow in your eyes
I have albums filled with photographs. Even today, in the great digital age, I insist on having photo albums, even if they’re just the kind that you make on one of those websites. I get them printed up and mailed to me so I can put them on my shelf. I like that even one picture can tell a whole story. It’s the story of a moment, sure, but also in a way the story of everything leading up to that moment. And you can almost see what stretches ahead, too, like the path of a shooting star.
Maybe I’m a romantic at heart. Maybe I’m vain. But no, there aren’t actually that many good pictures of me (in my estimation). Most of my favorite photographs are of friends and family, my being in them or not more an aside.
I especially like old photos. I like looking at pictures of my parents when they were young. I like thinking about how different life was then, and they were then, and the string of events that have paved the way to here and now. I have a really old photo of my great-grandfather and his siblings, and I like looking into all their faces and thinking that, despite all the differences between us, there’s a lot that’s the same, too. Their lives became the soil I was cultivated in, for better or worse.
I’m no great actor—passable but not great—but I am a great storyteller, and photographs are stories, and stories (or screenplays) are really just a series of snapshots. It’s all so much history, it’s like excavating, being the Indiana Jones of events and emotions. I like people, I find them interesting, and photographs help me understand them. And sometimes, later and when removed from the time and place in which it was taken, a picture can help me understand myself a bit too.