No, I haven’t become a ghost – not yet anyway. But a glance at my absence in my Facebook albums might beg the question: Where have I gone? Where are any recent pictures of me? The long answer is: I am not a teen, over-indulging is self pics. I am not a twenty-something documenting travels and fun times for show and tell. I am a single mom in my mid-thirties, and my face seems to have become but a distant memory … photographically speaking of course! It’s been replaced by my little dopple-gangers; their firsts, their friends, their fun.
B. had a project due at daycare last month. A family pic at the centre of a cardboard flower. I flipped through our vacation and summer photos searching for one with the 3 of us in it, and came up empty handed. Nada. Not one. It’s like the french expression says “The poorly shod shoemaker.”
It’s not like I don’t like having my picture taken. I’m having some portraits taken this week actually. I guess the truth of the matter is, whenever I am around, others put their cameras away. And it’s not like it’s easy to pass off a clunky Mark II to a complete stranger and say “Can you take our pic?” It’s a giant, heavy, intimidating-looking beast that most wouldn’t be comfortable taking on. Maybe I have just gotten lazy about it? On a 3 (childless) trips to NYC this summer I brought it once, and came back with nary and shot of myself or of my host. Huh? What happened to the girl who was obsessed with preserving it all for posterity? What happened to the keener who had always wanted to prove where she had been and with whom?
I think a few things have happened… For one, with the arrival of kids, my focus, literally has shifted from myself to them. It’s easy to snap a 100 frames and not realize you didn’t get one with yourself in it because, really, you ARE there. Ansel Adams described it best when he said, “There are always 2 people in every picture: the photographer and viewer.” So in that sense, I am always present. Present in the photo’s style, present in it’s technical input and output. But if this was a game of “Where’s Carla”, I am nowhere to be found.
I’ve also reached a point in my life where I don’t need to prove anything to anyone but myself. And if that’s true, I know that I was there, who I was with and what I did… So why do I need to document it? During my 20s I can say that almost every picture that came out of my point and shoot had my face in it. It was like I was so conscious of time ticking by that I wanted to preserve it all. And flipping through the albums that contain all those photos, I am glad I did. I think as we age, we love to look back and see how we changed, grew and came into the person we are today. And even if our Facebook profile page is an Ode to Self, it is a different self that I choose to put out there. It’s my version of me looking out, that I choose to show to others looking in.
Some of it might also have to do with the fact that I have no partner, no one else to pick up the picture taking slack when I put my camera down and become available for a pic. It doesn’t feel like anyone is necessarily missing in a photo that contains both my kids, the way it might had I taken it of my kids and a partner. No one walking by me ever says “Hey, jump into the pic, I’ll take one of the whole family.” My missing face doesn’t create an obvious hole in the photo.
It’s a lot of things combined, and most of the time, it’s neither here nor there. But I would like my kids to look back on their childhood pics and remember me as they knew me growing up. I always find it stunning to realize I have known my mother since she was in her 20s. I’d like my kids to do the same for me and be able to say “Wow, look how ‘young’ you were when we were small…” Now that cell phones can not only take great pics, but also turn the viewfinder towards the photographer, there are no more excuses. I really must get on that … Halloween is coming up after all. A perfect time for the Vanishing Woman to reappear. Waa-ha-ha-haaaaa! xo