Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Photographic memory

Photos capture things for us in ways almost nothing else can. People and moments that we left behind long ago, and ones from the past we were never part of if the first place, can all be right in front of us. There’s a power in that. There’s also the power they give to us to remember and to learn—even from and about ourselves.

I’ve recently shared a few different photos, which isn’t anything new, but I’ve also been talking more about the photos themselves. As part of that, I told the story of what was behind this year’s birthday selfie. That, in turn, made me start looking at what I’d shared in previous years, and what they told me about, well, me. There were a lot of different things I noticed.

The first and most obvious thing is that I didn’t start taking those selfies until 2015 (see image at right), though there were photos of me in my 2009 birthday post. However, those photos were taken taken of me and not by me: They weren’t selfies. Once I had all the photos together, I looked at each one as a sort of yearly milepost, since, unlike any other photos of me, they were all taken at the same time of year.

I don’t know if I intended for the photos in 2015 and 2016 to have the same theme (I probably did), however, I do know that in both photos, as with so many others, I deliberately made sure that my left hand was visible because then my rings would be, too. I’ve always felt a responsibility to be a symbol of a happy, long-term gay relationship, and that’s the most consistently visible way I did that, even though I didn’t actually ever say that until now.

Until I did this project, I never noticed that I wore the same shirt in 2016 and 2017. I’m certain that wasn’t intentional. From now on, I’ll double check, so if I repeat a shirt, it’ll be deliberate.

There are much more important things, though.

2016 was the birthday before my stent (that was the following August), and I think I can see that. 2017 was the last birthday when we lived on Auckland’s North Shore—just about a month before we moved to Clarks Beach in South Auckland. I was concerned about that move, which I suppose is a subject in itself, and I think I can see that, too.

2018 was my first birthday in Clarks Beach (see my note about 2017, but I was also affected by the prescriptions I was on, as I've mentioned frequently, which was a much bigger thing). 2019 was the year of my 60th birthday, and there’s a hint of a smile. 2020 I was in the midst of moving out of Clarks Beach, and my smile is kinda real, but only because I was so very tired that day (plus my neighbour was standing nearby watching in case I wanted her to take it for me; I didn’t because it had to be a selfie—of course!). And this year’s photo has a partly faked smile, thought I’m not sure how big a part.

Those are things that may or may not be obvious to others, but there was one more thing I was curious about: Ageing.

A few weeks, a couple months at most, after Nigel died, I looked at myself in the mirror and was surprised at how much I’d visibly aged. I’d heard of that sort of thing happening, but I was surprised at the visual confirmation.

That was one of the things I was most interested in seeing: Was there photographic evidence of my seemingly rapid ageing? I think the answer is an obvious “yes”.

From 2015 to 2019, I look more or less the same—wrinkles and lines are pretty much the same. That changed pretty dramatically in 2020 when the wrinkles in the outside corners of my eyes appeared. Those were slightly better in 2021, suggesting that some of my appearance in 2020 was because of deep fatigue and the stress of shifting from the last house Nigel and I shared to one in a new city—and, obviously, without him.

For years I’ve been looking at the two vertical creases at the top of my nose, between my eyes. I watched them get worse over time, and told Nigel at some point I’d definitely consider botox for them. He just rolled his eyes. Those creases got worse after Nigel died.

There are two things about all this. First, the photos show me that I wasn’t imagining things, and it’s always nice to have that sort of confirmation of a feeling or hunch. However, the other thing about this is that I mostly don’t care about it: If we’re lucky, we get older, and changes are inevitable if we have the gift of longevity. On the third hand, I didn’t want to see it quite yet.

A month or so ago, on a whim, I bought a men’s moisturiser that, it says, is specifically designed for men and promises to fight visible signs of ageing. I’m a sceptic by nature, and this was no different. I’m well aware that in many cases this sort of stuff is at least substantially the same for men and women, the only differences being packaging, maybe fragrance, and often price, with men paying more for essentially the same thing women buy. Be that as it may, the product was for men, right? Worth a try, right?

I started using it a couple weeks before my birthday, maybe every second or third day, and I noticed over this past weekend that the vertical creases are softened compared to what they had been over the previous year. A fluke? My imagination? Quite possibly. But it was encouraging enough for me to begin using it twice every day, as the package recommends. I’m also now paying more attention to the corners of my yes (which I wasn’t really doing before). In another month or two I may take another photo just so I can compare more directly.

I’m doing all this for the same reason I still dye my beard (when I can be bothered…): It’s entirely for me, and no one else. When I look at myself in the mirror, I want to see the “me” I feel, which is usually somewhat younger than my chronological age. If using this stuff can make me see the same guy I feel I am, then that alone is justification. After all, it’s not for or about others, only me.

And, as my final defensive comment, I also knew the skin of my forehead was a bit dry, as are my hands a lot of the time (I wash my hands a lot nowadays, and my head is exposed to sun and wind). I could’ve used ordinary moisturiser (and I do on my hands), and not said a word about. Or I could have just said I was using moisturiser for dry skin which, while true, wasn’t the whole story. That’s not how I do things.

For years now, I’ve tried to be open, honest, and transparent about what I’m doing, thinking, and feeling mostly because I know that other people may be going through similar things as me and if they run across these posts, they’ll hopefully realise they’re not alone. Plus, these posts help me remember things, in much the same way photos do, but with the full context included.

Photos, you see, capture things for us in ways almost nothing else can, and they can also help us to understand more about ourselves when we put those photos into context. There’s power in that.

This post has been updated. Follow the link to see the update.


Roger Owen Green said...

Hmm. In the US, women generally pay more for essentially the same item. It's called the pink tax.

Arthur Schenck said...

Yes, especially for haircuts and dry cleaning. The thing is that men’s cosmetics (which is what they are…) have a small market, and, apparently, men judge value on price. Or, something. 🤷🏻‍♂️

Roger Owen Green said...

But even razors and deodorants. https://www.listenmoneymatters.com/the-pink-tax/