Everyone knows, we try to present our 'best' side to the world. Tomes have been written on the ill effects of too much social media and blah-di-blah. It's the vortex of cool, unattainable ideas. On Facebook and Instagram (and partially on Snapchat), most everyone's presenting their 'best' self.
But what about real life? What happens when we judge our actions against a bar that conglomerates the 'best' of everything we've ever seen?
We aim to be the parent who is at once the most athletically and creatively and emotionally and spiritually and intellectually supportive of their child, all the time, while remaining grounded and wise. Oh, and who cooks 100% nutritious meals, every meal.
We aim to be the partner we see in Netflix specials, who is selfless at all times, and physically and emotionally available without question. Who, despite sleep deprivation, naughty kids, or demanding days at the office, forgives all with a cool head, a kiss, and a smile.
Nah. I don't buy it.
We can never be the best parent. The best partner. The best friend. The best anything.
The 'best' we seek is illusory. I don't imagine it's like reaching some sort of rebirth. Picture waking up one day all 'fixed', with optimum patience and love and forgiveness. And then picture being that person forever. I'm dead certain that this noble goal is worthy of pursuit but impossible to actualize. (and ain't the pursuit half the fun? wink-wink, nudge-nudge, #NOT)
Back to what I actually do as a profession...
I'm dead certain that it's a fantastic idea to get dolled up and get your photos done and make your best smiles and tuck out your chin, suck in the tummy, and hold.
[ASIDE: God knows how many times Liz has tried to give me such instruction, and here's what she has to contend with, despite her tremendous efforts and talent. (I'm thinking I was actually following orders to stick out my chin in this one)
© Liz Cooper of Lizzography.com (Woodstock, Vermont, Oct 2016)]
... but, I'm also dead certain that in the long run, you don't want to pursue a complete erasure of your actual self. The 'not-so-best-but-trying' self, the 'I-think-I-can' self.
This is the self that's doing the most work, most consistently, and this is the self that needs to be given more voice.
My job as a photographer should be simple: take your photograph.
My moral responsibility as a photographer, as I have come to understand it, goes a step farther: I encourage what is true and what is good to shine through without shame. I aim to find your tireless self - the one that wakes up with ten snoozes of the alarm and burns the coffee and raises her voice and mentally checks out from time to time and takes a hot bath when shit seems to be hitting the fan. Contrary to what you might feel, that self is not constantly making blunders and fumbling through life. That is the hardest working self you've got. It's the self that won't quit on you even when you feel like throwing in the towel. That's the self I'm interested in photographing.
Not because I'm an unabashed voyeur, you see (though such photographs are fun, too).
But because the other self - the one that rides the coattails of your hard-working, trying, seemingly-failing self - has had enough attention. And it's a little boring, to be frank. Rather, it's that less-often seen but always in the background self that, when all is said and done, is actually your best self.
My fellow humans: These are our lives, and we get to choose what moments we keep. So make sure to keep some memories of that overlooked, Cinderella-self of yours.
(And sure. Along the way, we'll take some great photographs of your other self - the well-poised, even-keeled, fully glamorous one. Because like the sun rises each day, that self also comes to be, every once in a while, after all the hard work of the tireless self has provided sufficient scaffolding for it.)
Now, because it's easier to talk-the-talk than anything, I'm posting some photographs of my not-my-best self, which I find some of the most interesting photographs to revisit.
Classic & timeless: eating all my daughter's birthday cake instead of looking at the camera. (Rotterdam, NL, 2014)
Dancing with wine. (Kingston, 2011)
Dancing without wine. (apparently that's my one and only dance move, too. How fun.) (Washington, DC, 2010)
Boobhead. (Kingston, 2010)
I'm hiding my face in shame because I rode the zip-line standing up (because that's how I thought it was supposed to be done) and nearly fell. (Prague, 2015)
I had a party and was heavily pregnant, so i couldn't see the stain on my shirt. Oops. (Mississauga, 2011)
Here's a photo taken by my then 6-year old son Julian, of his baby brother and me (Mississauga, 2011)