This photograph represents so much about reflection, about illusion, about layered reality.
Living high on the Gretna escarpment in the Upper Derwent Valley, our family home looks out towards the imposing Mount Field. We see – we experience – so much more of our world than a narrow strip of sky above us. Central to all is the never-ending change that every season, every day, every hour brings. Nothing is static, everything is in motion, yet the world itself is stable, solid, timeless; a guardian.
I think of personal identity in much the same way. We experience constant shift and change, and in doing so we are often the very dreams of our own imagination.
Yet how we imagine ourselves is often not the way in which others see us. We plan at least part of it that way. We deliberately hold back those elements of our personalities in which we no pride, aspects we don’t admire, are ashamed of, of which we are uncertain. We all hold secrets we don’t care to share.
We genuinely hope that people will admire and respect us, our ideas, our work; at the same time we are determined to maintain our integrity. This is not always a possibility. When the gaining of admiration and respect clashes with keeping to principle, it becomes a clearly self-contradictory notion. We would be foolish, however, if we ignored those aspects of character which are problematic for those important to us; friends, lovers, children, parents, teachers, employers, employees, those who live with us in our communities. Image is more important than we acknowledge.
Constructing identity is so essentially human that it arose long before today’s digital age. We have survived from the very first in a world strongly weighted against us. We have always needed a potent survival weapon, and adjusting our identities has allowed us to not only to survive, but extract the best advantage for ourselves in the world we live in.
There never has been, however, a time before this age where human beings have been so able to act the chameleon, to play the part, to shape themselves to the extent to which we can today. It is not simply the advanced, brain-dazzling technology that now allows us to interconnect in real time over unimaginable space. It is not just the speed in which technology develops into more sophisticated and breathtaking forms.
Our whole way of ‘being’ has been transformed, and social existence altered forever. The changes are fundamental, irreversible, and they will prove to be more revolutionising than the transition from preliterate to literate society.
Identity is carefully manipulated and designed in today’s world. The more visibile members of our society are highly sophisticated in the way they consciously structure specific images to suit occasion and purpose. Even if we are among those citizens who prefer to maintain a below-the-radar profile, we cannot avoid it. We are certainly left behind by those young people who have to negotiate their way through life in a very different world.
The careful manipulation and control of image, of focus on different aspects of a personality, to understand, and to perform appropriately, to a specific audience is essential. In stating this, I also acknowledge the need to be able to deliberately highlight what will most advantage, what will least damage me, what will facilitate ‘success’ and conceal failure. It is imperative to do so if I am to ‘succeed’.
At other times, however, when I write my poetry, I deliberately and painfully peel the skin back as I explore what makes me who I truly am…