Brain Food #481

Seeing a self

Thoughts of the day

One of the oldest philosophical questions is whether the self is something to be recognised and determined intrinsically or extrinsically. In very simple words, do we exist because we know we exist, or because others see us? And, in that case, if we are seen by multiple others, each with their own perception, how do we maintain a sense of consistency in who we are?

The medium of photography, so often criticised nowadays in the way it is used to curate a profile that resembles fake perfection, could contain the key. Capturing the moment that was a turning point. For some, the capturing becomes the moment itself.

In a recent interview with Artspace, German photographer Wolfgang Tillmans recounts the moment when he realised who he was as an artist:

It’s a self-portrait on the beach in France, photographing down on myself. It’s a pink shape, which is my T-shirt, and then a bit of black, which is my shorts, and then a bit of skin, which is my knee, and then a big space of sand. It’s also my first abstract picture: you can’t make out what it is, but it’s actually totally concrete at the same time. And it was about this moment of reaffirmation, or self-affirmation—I am. It was like coming out to myself as an artist. It’s a record of an experience I had. Once I’d experienced something, recognized something, I could take a picture of it.

If we stop and take a closer look, we may be surprised by what we see.

Wolfgang Tillmans. Lacanau (Self). 1986 | MoMA

Wolfgang Tillmans, Lacanau (Self), 1986


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