The Mutability of Identity, by Reba J
Identity, and the representations of it, tend to change over time, the politics and interpretations surrounding them and their collected histories, less so. Through my photography I strive to create a personal archive which captures the complexity of the subject and instills ownership along with authorship over my own identity. I do this by finding my identity and personal histories through depictions of physical objects and the spaces they inhabit. I see my character in these things not only because they anchor my mind to a reality I am continually separating from, but because of the endless possibilities they present. They are mutable, and I see myself in this way too. When looking at portraits of my physical image, they seem so concrete in the parts they represent that my foremost urge is to dismiss them as a false portrayal of who I am. Through these photographs, I am building a world I genuinely feel represents the mutability of my identity and personal history over any photo taken of me, and even though the multitude of possibilities they represent may overwhelm me, these anchors aide me in knowing who I am.
To fully grasp these ideas, one must be aware of how identity is always in a state of flux, beginning and ending, becoming and unbecoming. Because of this, at many points in my life, I have been at a crossroads with my identity — parts of myself coming into conflict with other parts, contradicting and competing. In coming to terms with my sexuality, for example, I am religious, but most who ascribe to my religion say it is not possible for me to be bisexual and follow this religion at the same time. Like archives, my identity has layers which intersect, but sometimes at the crossroads, a point of clarity is found, and the journey of becoming and unbecoming starts again.
The associations discovered between image and identity do not happen overnight, and they tend to happen because of the method I approach photography with. I call myself a meditative photographer. By this I mean that I take a (usually reoccurring) setting, object, composition, feeling, etc. and hold it in my mind. I cultivate my personal mythology within it until I have brought it to “full term.” Then like Zeus with Athena, I pick up my camera and finally give birth to this idea I may have impregnated myself with weeks, months, and sometimes even years ago. This allows for the discovery of infinite possibilities of what part of my identity is present within my images; imagination becomes a tool in my hands to relate to objects and their positions in the world. In a reexamination of my images I notice an object that has drawn my attention more so than others: the repeating motif of chairs. I find a relation to this type of furniture, using my imagination, in not only the anatomical language used to describe the pieces of a chair, like arm and leg, but how chairs exist in an ambiguous state of being used or unused. Like the paradoxical glass which is either half empty or half full, a chair presents the flux of identity and life since a presence has just occupied its space or is about to occupy it, always laying within seconds of a state of transition.
My intentional use of black and white images furthers this idea for me as well. In One of Us Is Sleeping by Danish writer Josefine Klougart, I connect with how the narrator “sees everything that almost exists…everything as though in negative, everything dark is light, and what’s light vanishes into black…A resemblance. I see the outline.” The world of black and white offers a plane of imagination to me that color does not. Color makes what an object is, in reality, more concrete since it is identified more wholly through the color it possesses. This chromatic element adds a layer of forced feeling since people tend to associate colors with certain emotions. With the tonal range expressed in black and white a possible outline for something to become more than-it-is resounds within me. This removal of colors makes way for dreamy outlines able to be read like tea leaves, revealing to any person the possibility of their own (un)becomings.
In my journey of archival—almost world-making—practices my on-going collection of photographs become a land of possibility to show and place ownership over the complexity of my identity in a way self-portraiture never has. These images and I all possess a sense of mutability which reflect my identity, and its ongoing history, in tandem.