Monday, March 8, 2010

Why am I hiding behind my camera?

When I signed up for Facebook, I was immediately “faced” with a huge problem: I had no photos of my face. None. That was because I was always behind the camera instead of in front of it. I took pictures of my friends, my kids, my kids with my husband, my kids with my parents or parents-in-law or other relatives or classmates.

(Occasionally, my feet or arms wound up in the picture, too, but there wasn’t a single photo of my face. That’s a big problem on Facebook because people want to see, well, your face. After all, it’s not called “Armbook” or “Footbook.”)

I thought about this recently when I read the novel The Girl with Glass Feet by Ali Shaw. One of the main characters, Midas Crook, hides behind his camera. He is a socially inept man who prefers to view the world through his camera lens.

It’s safer there.

His one romantic relationship ended when he realized that he was only attracted to the version of the woman he had caught on film, not the living and breathing woman that she was when his camera was put away. Instead of social interaction, he has film and black-and-white photos and people reduced to what slow light and silver nitrate make them.

People are easier to deal with when they are flat and two-dimensional.

3-D people can be disturbing: knowing all three dimensions of them forces me to share all three dimensions of myself. Scary.

Recently, a friend remarked that she enjoyed my blog posts because I’m so “transparent.” I’d love to think that I really am transparent, that my blog readers know the real me, that my life is an open book.

Sure, my life is an open book . . . in a foreign language.

All too often, I’ve hidden myself from other people. I hide . . .

  • behind a camera because being in front of it means I might be captured in an unflattering pose;
  • behind a book (either someone else’s or my own) because characters in a book are easier to deal with than real life people;
  • behind a computer screen, “connected” on the Internet, because it’s easier to connect with other people when I can disconnect with them just as easily by shutting down the computer.

An actual person won’t go away if I click a mouse or turn a page or delete a photo on my digital camera. Like Midas Crook, I often prefer two-dimensional people to three-dimensional, and for the same reason: intimately knowing others can be terrifying.

About halfway through the book, Midas has an epiphany:

He imagined dying and being cut open and there were all his bones and muscles and his bared arteries and capillaries leading to a cavity in his chest where, instead of a heart, he had his camera.

For too long, he has defined himself and others by photography; now he must decide if he is willing to take the risk of setting aside his camera and learning to love other people.

What would an autopsy show within me: a camera … a book … a computer… or a heart?

What would it show within you?

More to the point, what are you going to do about it?

Even more to the point, why are you still on the Internet? Shut down that computer and go talk to a real person.


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