“When the shoot was over and we started to look at the photos, I commented on the first one, “I like this. It’s a quiet photo.” Anastasia replied, “All of your photos are quiet photos. You’re a quiet person.” Sometimes I forget that I am a quiet person. There is so much noise inside my head most of the time. I have a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder that is referred to as “Pure O,” or purely obsessive, and I am constantly counting to myself.
Syllables. Beats to music. Anything that can be quantified is processed by the eternal machine that runs silently inside me. This, coupled with post-traumatic stress disorder that fills my brain with so much fear and anger so much of the time, makes for a chaotic body in which to live. I have spent so much of the past year being so angry about and fearful of so many things, and then I got sick and had to slow down in order to better take care of myself.
During this time I have been reminded that this quiet and calm would have been my baseline if certain things hadn’t happened to me, or if I hadn’t been born with this brain. All my life I have felt at war with the person I am. There is a constant tension between who I want to be, who I felt I was meant to be, and who I am, who I can be. The ideal versus the possible. Sitting for Anastasia reminded me that this war is waged entirely in my own head. I make myself more complicated than I need to be. More complicated than I am. Much is said these days of the empowering quality of the selfie, but I find more power in the act of relinquishing control over my image and allowing myself to be seen how others see me. When taking a selfie, I control every little movement my face makes. I set the lighting. I choose the filter. If I find a photo unflattering, I can delete it and forget I ever looked that way.
In Anastasia’s studio, I had no control. We spent two hours before the shoot talking about our personal lives, dating mishaps, and sexual histories. We fell easily into topics during our first meeting that many people do not broach until they have been good friends for quite some time. Because it was so easy to open up with Anastasia, I found myself relaxing in a way that I can only do when I am with my closest friends, or when I am alone. I was allowed to unfurl, and the resulting photos gave me a strange and welcome glimpse into the Isobel that other people see, rather than the one I allow them to see. In some of these photos I have tummy rolls. In some of these photos I have a grin that overtakes my face. In some of these photos I look “exhausted by life,” as Anastasia put it.
In all of these photos there is an appliance strapped to my left thigh that allows me to continue living as a healthy person, but in none of them does this appliance define the shot or me as its subject. In all of these photos, I get a deeper glimpse into my own vulnerability, power, and depth than any mirror reflection or selfie could ever offer. In all of these photos I feel beautifully imperfect and human, inhabiting my own little space in a menagerie of fleshy beings. Nothing too special or too mundane. I like this space. It’s a quiet space.”