I felt uncomfortable when I first started as a student in Vancouver. That was not my first time in Vancouver, though. One year before, I was a tourist visiting almost every well-known university in Canada with a bunch of Chinese college students around my age. I was fun, charming, and clever. One year later, 2014, after months of hard work on my IETLS score, acquiring a student permit and VISA, here I was, standing again in the SFU campus, I finished my first semester in this long journey.
I chose to transfer to SFU because of this joint major program (Communication and Interactive Design) I wanted to pursue. However, I was not happy living in Vancouver. The most significant and damaging reason has to be low self-esteem. My extremely low self-esteem. I think, “People are way better good-looking than me and I cared.”
I’ve never been proud of personal looks, but they haven’t troubled me neither. Mainland China’s society moves at an incredible pace. Everyone cares about efficiency and productivity. They celebrate money, power, and glory. People had other troubling things to manage rather than worrying about their personal appearance. To do what proves to be “useful” and “productive” is a norm in that society. It is also the way I felt comfortable living.
Suddenly, the world I perceived in my language that I felt so familiar disappeared, leaving this dark cold water that I was drifting in. I felt lost. There was no light, no sound, and no feelings. If all I left for the world to see at that moment was the body and a face, then I was naked. Till I found a remedy: selfie therapy.
So, I started to take photos of myself.
1. to keep practicing my photography skills.
2. to understand myself better and to rebuild my world, but this time, in my own way.
I was intensively taking photos of myself and modelling for myself from August 3rd 2014 to the end of that year. After that, I started to work on more serious self-portraits that involve more complete settings like tripod, remoter, and flashlight.
The moment I decided to take a photo I agreed to be looked at.
Have you ever experienced anything like this: in primary school, when you get an A on your test, you want the world to see it, but when the score is not beautiful enough, then you try to hide it, as if you are afraid of being less capable than others, right? Honestly, that is how I felt with my appearance. And all I was trying to do is starting to feel confident and comfortable when being looked at by others. On August 3rd, I had my camera look at me; I looked back into it.
It was a blind shot. There was no one to watch the monitor for me, give directions, or manage the shoot. I was my performer and viewer. Every time I wanted to take a photo, then I had to set the timer over, and over, and running back-and-forth between modelling and checking the results.
Modelling for myself was a great challenge. Whenever I fake a smile, the camera knows, always. In those dark times, in my own monologue, I found out if I want to appear happy in a photo, then I need to think about genuinely joy-producing things. Otherwise, the dynamic won’t be in the shoot.
I became better at posing and working with cameras. I I realized:
If I can be genuine and honest to myself for a photo-shoot, why can’t I be genuine and honest with myself in real life?
Those practices taught me to be a better photographer through reversing roles and gave an opportunity to freely expresses personal feelings and perceptions . Art can be meaningless, to others, but inspiring to me. I can live a life where I define my own success rather than the Insta-celebrities or society.
After 3-month basic practices, I started to turn this random experiment to a regular self-portrait session, and down below are 4 pieces of my best work to date, click image to open full size.
Concept: My shattered, scattered self during the rebuilt process
Concept: Me killing the old self and reborn from it with the power of photography
Concept: My mind is my body; my body is my mind. A new aero for the new me.
Concept: In society today, with over-loaded information and choices, one might find oneself pulled into multiple identities during the journey of self-discovery. I want to use this series to express this mental instability one might have at the finishing edge of adolescence and the beginning of adulthood due to those uncertainty and insecurity.
I posted my experience in Chinese on one of the most intimate small online community that focus on art, life and philosophy, and got over 10, 000 views.