A question of vanity and photography

Note to readers: This post may fail to come across as the intelligent, artistic debate that it’s intended to be. It may instead simply appear utterly narcissistic – but this is not my intention, honest! 

At one point while at Greenbelt, I emerged from my tent to find my friends holding a camera up and taking self portraits. When I asked what on earth they were up to, the reply came: “We’re doing a Liz”

A couple of years ago, on our second Girls’ Weekend Away, one of my friends spotted me posing for the camera in the back of the car. She found it fantastically amusing – especially when she observed me doing the same thing on later occasions.  I think at Greenbelt the girls had spotted me taking a photo and were inspired to emulate me – albeit in a mick-taking fashion. (What they didn’t seem to understand is that self-portraiture is an excellent means of checking one’s looks when in a camping situation.)

(With apologies to Matt & Ruth – you took yours landscape, so I had to crop you!) 

Is it vanity to take self-portraits? I don’t think so – I look at it more as a specific photographic art-form and an excellent way of chronicling adventures and the moving-on of time. And, to be honest, it’s only since the dawn of digital photography that it’s become easy to do it.

For example, there’s the issue of travelling solo to interesting places – how else can you document your presence?

Of course, you’ll immediately spot the problem with these photos. As travelling mementos they don’t really show the place travelled to – with the exception of bottom right (last week’s trip to the Giant’s Causeway) in which the rocks might give it away. The other three are, from top left: JFK Plaza in Philadelphia; beneath the Abraham Lincoln Memorial in DC; and in Central Park – but really, could be almost anywhere! [I should mention that in sorting out photos I found some that featured actual landmarks, but only four and I looked awful in all of them.]

A couple of years ago I discovered a very poignant use of self-portraits. Stephanie of NieNie Dialogues took regular shots of herself (and much more original ones than my own) in which she documented her family, home and love of fashion. When she was seriously injured in an air crash two years ago these photos provided solace for her four children. Now they remind her of the way life used to be, before her appearance changed dramatically. For months after she began blogging again no photos of the ‘new’ Nie appeared, until almost a year after the crash, when the first self-portrait was posted. These days they’re commonplace and show the way in which she’s gradually coming to terms with the second chance she’s been given at life. To be perfectly honest, I cried when that first photo appeared and am still humbled on a regular basis by her strength and the way in which she battles at overcoming her feelings of loss towards the way she used to look.

Now, I’m not saying that my own vain exploits are as worthy, but I do like the way in which you can document your life – through changing hairstyles/colours, to clothing choices, seasons and thinning faces. Looking through old photo albums tonight I couldn’t find any earlier than my NZ holiday in 2008, but it does appear that the frequency has increased in recent months.

So, here’s 2008-10 in self-portraiture:

GWA 08; shorter haircut; the ‘scary’ photo; shortest haircut; wet walk; Greenbelt 09; Sian’s hen; another haircut; a wedding; a rope swing; a pub toilet; fun at home; new clothes; 29th birthday am & pm; yet another haircut & birthday karaoke; Liz ‘doing a Liz’; hilarity; and finally, this evening.

On a wing and a prayer

A few weeks ago I mentioned a phenomenon that was spreading through the blogging community: the outpouring of support for Stephanie and Christian Nielson.

They were seriously injured when their light aircraft crashed (the 3rd person on board was killed) back in August. Both were critical, although it soon became clear that Christian’s condition was better than Stephanie’s. She had 3rd degree burns over 80% of her body, and as any ER addict would realise, that doesn’t carry a good survival rate.

Since the accident, 1000’s of people who have been inspired by the NieNie dialogues (Stephanie’s blog) have rallied round the family in support, donating money, time, prayers…

The couple’s recovery has been documented by Courtney, one of Stephanie’s sisters, who now looks after their 3 eldest children (aged 2-6). Time and again, reading the latest news, I’ve been prompted to pray for this family I’ve never met. Advance notice of skin graft surgery has had me making a note to pray at a particular time. Photos of the children and stories of their bravery in such a difficult situation have been inspiring.

I’ve been pondering recently why I’ve felt so touched by this family, besides their obvious need for love in such a difficult time. First off, Stephanie’s around my age, yet has four gorgeous children. I’m still waiting for my ‘Mr Nielson’ to show up but when he does I hope that I’m just as besotted with him as Stephanie is with hers. Secondly, getting to know this woman I’ve never met through her blog, I’ve realised that she doesn’t do things by halves, or even try to conform with what society expects. Take this incident involving her eldest daughter and school, for example. And, she has great sisters (I only hope my one and only sister could fill the breach just as well) – taking on 3 extra children with a newborn baby of her own is no mean feat.

Over the last few days, updates have shared some really good news. Stephanie’s now out of the woods and is slowly coming back to reality out of her induced coma. Christian is already in rehab. This article, published at the weekend, tells the story in much more detail and makes it far clearer than the family’s blog posts could bear to, of how dire her condition was. It actually had me practically in tears when I read it. As her sister wrote, it just goes to show that the power of prayer cannot be underestimated.

The need for prayer is not over (is it ever?), so if you pray, please remember this family.