Do you have a favourite photograph of yourself? An actual, physical photograph? I realise I might be leaving out some of the iphone generation here but, back in the day, we used to print our photos. I know you know that. But seriously, there’s something special about a photo you can hold in your hand, even if you do just stash it away somewhere for another day. And they’re one of the few things I would rescue from a burning building, too.
This is mine. 2002. Feeling grounded in the water. The summer before my 19th birthday, in which I spent almost every waking hour with my new friend Christian who I’d met not long before this way taken. We were introduced by a mutual friend I worked with at what was then the Radio 1 Roadshow in Ipswich. Between Natalie Imbruglia, cringing over B*Witched, sunscreen and swigging cheap beer, we began a tentative friendship. An aspiring photographer, he asked to take my photo. Me, desperate to leave the town behind, maybe to try modelling, agreed to let him – I would put them in a book and visit some agencies in London.
Over a few days, we drove around some of his favourite places and he snapped away as we talked, capturing all of my teenage uncertainty and nervous giggles, uncomfortable in my own skin. Except for this one.
This was me, six months into rebuilding my life after I had the rug pulled from under my feet. After my father had kicked me out and sent me back to mum, without explanation. His way of dealing with things. I had to start all over again. A-levels under a different syllabus, new friends, deferring uni. Dealing with rejection. But underneath that vulnerability, I see a glint of strength and a taste for adventure in that almost-smile.
And I want to grab her and hold her and tell her that everything will work out fine. That the path she’ll take won’t be the right one, but a step in the right direction. That she’ll have to learn to open up, let go, forgive. Maybe spend less time chasing idiots at uni, oh-and don’t go out the night before Notting Hill Carnival. I’d tell her that eight years from now, she’d reconnect with lost family and rebuild her Caribbean connections. And to trust the journey.
Photos are funny things. On the one hand, they have the ability to make the subject want to shrivel up with cringing, on the other, loved ones looking back at you see only the things they love about you. An imprint of you not yet knowing what you do now. I think we all have a favourite photograph of ourselves somewhere. Perhaps you love it because it’s painful to look at? Or you weren’t even aware of it being taken? It might not have been the happiest time, your most confident time, but maybe you connect with it because of where you are today, signifying a journey. Does it sum up a time you felt most content? Or does it include a loved one no longer around? Above everything else, it might even be more about the person taking that photograph and something in the way they see you through that lens.
So dig one out. Find one, even a digital one and make sure you print it and keep it close by. A little reminder of you. Even if you decide to stash it away for another day…
If these pictures have anything important to say to future generations, it’s this…I was here! I existed! I was young, I was happy, and someone cared enough about me in this world…to take my picture.