I want to talk about something that happened to me a while ago – back in September, I believe – and how it has affected my choices about photography since. Many people still comment that they “miss” my self-portraits, so it’s probably obvious I’m not doing them near as much as I used to do. I’ve talked about a few reasons for this already – time constraints, boredom, lack of inspiration, etc. – but there’s one issue I haven’t talked about on the blog, although some of you know about it already. This weekend, when I was considering taking photos and before I decided to go planespotting, I briefly considered getting dressed up and posing, but quickly brushed it out of my mind for a reason that may be more influential than I previously thought. It’s not a big deal or anything, just one of those “real life” things that sometimes intrudes upon our virtual lives (I’ll throw in some super-old selfies in this post, just for the hell of it).
Right at the beginning of the year, I struck up a conversation with a twelfth-grade boy in my class who is very into photography. He plans to study it in college, and is actually exceptionally good (I would link to his page but I’m not sure that’s appropriate). As we were discussing the subject, I pulled up one of my pictures I’d uploaded to Flickr so he could see it – and he got super-excited about the fact I had a Flickr account, because he had one too, and asked for my username.
Now. I’m normally NOT one to share my personal information with my students. I know teachers who do – they share their cell phone numbers with them so they can text them important things, friend them on Facebook, talk to them more like buddies than teachers, and so on. I’ve never been one of those. I was never “friends” with my students; I just wasn’t comfortable with it. I much prefer to stay in the role of teacher around them, while they remain students. So, while I was OK sharing certain photos with this kid, but I did not want him to see every photo I’d ever taken and uploaded. However, I am not a fast thinker, and when he asked for my Flickr name I couldn’t think of anything else to do but tell him. He then immediately ran back to his laptop to find my account and follow me, while I ran back to my computer to desperately try to make “private” all the photos I didn’t want him to see before he got to them – which turned out to be a lot of them.
It’s not that I am ashamed of my portraits, but they are, to me, rather personal. That may be an odd word to choose when describing photos I’ve shared with all sorts of strangers on the internet, so perhaps it has more to do with maintaining my professional persona as a teacher than it does with feeling they share too much about me. The truth is they don’t share much at all; it’s me in costume trying to be someone else. But it’s not a behavior I want to have to explain to my students, and it’s not what I want them to see when I’m standing in front of them in the classroom. A lot of my friends don’t understand this, many of whom work at the same school. One of my friends is an art teacher here, and she told me how one day she pulled up a bunch of my self-portraits and showed them to her class. I wasn’t too happy about it, but I didn’t want to hurt her feelings because she genuinely showed them because she thinks they are awesome; however, it did feel to me like a violation of my privacy. Again, an odd way to feel when putting one’s self out there on the internet in so many ways, but there it is.
So now, every time I think of dressing up for photos, or upload a self-portrait to Flickr, I hesitate. What will this kid think if he sees it? Will he think I’m trying to be “sexy”? Will he show his friends? I don’t care at all if he shows them my doll photos or my plane shots, but me in a wig and drag makeup is a different story. In fact, if you go back to my Flickr stream and look at the self-portraits and costume shots I’ve uploaded, you’ll find (if you are one of my Flickr friends) that a good deal of them are marked “friends only” so he doesn’t see them. It’s a bummer, since it means some of my best stuff ends up getting limited attention, but it’s the only way I feel comfortable right now. At one point I thought I could go back later and switch the settings back to public, because I figured once he’d perused my whole stream he’d most likely only check out new stuff, but then I realized Flickr bumps pictures up to the top of my followers’ stream when I do that, so they all see them as if I just uploaded them. This bums me out, but it’s what I have to do to feel comfortable right now.
It’s just one more reason the self-portraits have fallen to the wayside. Knowing there’s one of my students seeing everything I do, or that I will work hard on a set of photos only to have to limit them to a few people to see, has taken some of the fun out of the whole thing for me. I’ve been hanging on in the hopes that once he has graduated and moved on (which he will do in May) I can stop hiding my self-portraits again; once I’m not seeing him every day in my teacher role, it will at least feel a little bit more OK. And then hopefully I’ll be comfortable changing my profile name back to Marey Mercy as it used to be (I changed it to Marey M at this time also, because I didn’t want him Googling “Marey Mercy” and finding my blog – I’d really be screwed then!). All part of the perils of living a life online, I reckon. Real life intrudes at times, and can put a damper on things. It’s not the worst thing ever to happen, just an added annoyance that has me second-guessing a lot of my portrait work right now. Here’s hoping my comfort level will improve once summer comes, and the kid is no longer my student.