As embarrassing as it is to admit, during the first semester of school I fell out of my lofted bed and gave myself a black eye.
Face hit floor resulting in the raw rug burn on my cheek and a swollen eyebrow. Over the next few days the popped vessels caused blood to pool in my eye socket, producing a generous burgundy eye shadow around my entire eye, encircled in an even larger yellow bruise. I was so stunning for those two weeks; I made people uncomfortable just to look at me.
Clearly I had to document how I looked.
I took out my camera and started shooting. After several unsuccessful attempts (pictures of my forearm, forehead, and basically every other part of my face), I finally started getting the pictures I was trying to frame. I could flip the camera around after a shot and return to the side of the camera where I feel more comfortable, but this time looking at the digital screen was unsettling. To take a picture I would face the lens of the camera, staring down nothing but a black vortex and then a snap of the camera would capture my stare. After a split second, the image was returned to me to see. It was as if I was able to stare straight through the camera, I had looked through the lens and now my eye was coming through on the other side.
In Camera Lucida, Roland Barthes reflects on the fact that “the photograph has this power…of looking [him] straight in the eye” (Barthes 111). It is a feature she identifies exclusively with photography because it is forbidden “by the Fiction” of movies, but also relents that it is a power photography is losing (111). She is afraid that the frontal pose is “most often considered archaic nowadays”, but why should it be? Maybe it is just time to turn an old process on its ear.
It should not be considered archaic for a subject to stare down the barrel of a lens. When the picture is returned, the subject can see what it is like to be stared at by his or herself; it’s something that they might not always get a chance to see. My photographs allowed me to look my self in my big black eye.