Notes on Appearance & Reality

For as long as I can remember I’ve had a fascination with identity and the distinction between appearance and reality. I would definitely say that the subject matter(s) of my writing – all of it; everything I’ve ever done and am currently doing – is coming at this preocupation from different angles. It’s an ongoing project; the way people/things are compared to how they appear to be, or present themselves as being, or believe themselves to be. At the heart of this issue is the question of whether there can actually be ultimate truth about a person’s nature, or whether people just make themselves up as they go along.

Inspired by a good friend who’s inspired by Alain De Botton’s penchant for numbering points in a list, and thereby making musings seem a. cohesive and b. directional, I’m going to list some excerpts of the pontification which went on in my head during this morning’s shower. Some of them might, if we’re lucky, be relevant to the general purposes of this blog.

1.

One of the coolest things about this job is getting to meet crazy, unconventional people who have urges to create art work which will last longer than them, and which expresses something about them and about how they see the world. They book particular models because they see that model in some way as representing or adhering to a world view or aesthetic which interests them. This is the interesting thing: the model builds up a portfolio/online presence representing the way she sees herself, or would like to see herself, or wants other people to see herself. There are layers of reality. It’s a creative, collaborative game. If it works well and the creative aims are in sync, the result is the expression of a joint world view, the capturing of a moment or story, which is an amazing thing. Reality is flexible, and inclusive.

2.

I normally drive to my shoots, but occasionally, due to the quirks of geography and the national rail, train journeys actually work out cheaper than petrol. It’s funny getting picked up at the station by a photographer/artist who knows exactly what you look like and gives you a hearty wave, forgetting you have no idea what they look like (since most photographers don’t have pictures of themselves all over the internet in the way that models do!) and so are just smiling vaguely in all directions waiting to be recognised. I always find it interesting to discover what a person is like in reality compared to how they come across in emails/internet presence. It’s so easy to build up ideas of what people must be like when you correspond with them for a long time before meeting, and I imagine this is multiplied by a thousand in the case of models, who (hopefully) already show a lot of their personality through their images. Occasionally, people tend to think they know you more than they actually do, but unless you’ve heard a person’s voice, or seen their faces and bodies move (not just seen split-second captures of a passing facial expression), you don’t really. I once got seven E-cards in one day from a man who decided he loved me (I believe his unfortunate affliction was brief, however). That’s what the internet does to people, though – you have an intense availability of a person’s image, and you can imagine that you know them as a full person. I get excited when people are exactly how I imagined them to be in real life.

3.

Integrity. I have never understood why people say things over the internet that they don’t mean and would not say in real life. This is only something I’ve witnessed rather than been involved in, but I remember reading things said on photography forums by someone who was repeatedly professing beliefs which were so at odds with mine (obviously that’s fine; makes the world go around, etc), but so ugly, arrogant and cruel, in my opinion, that I couldn’t believe it was real. This person then claims, in her defence, that she is nothing like her forum presence and is actually very nice in real life. Fascinating. Compartmentalising your personality; the new rage. Sounds quite knackering to me.

4.

You are not what you say but what you do. I must sellotape this fact to my brain.

5.

When I did my Masters, I was taught poetry by Jane Yeh, who is also a bit obsessed with the theme of representation and self-creation, ‘the nature of artifice, and of the self’. She has a hilarious (and excellent) poem written from the point of view of the owl which plays Harry Potter’s owl in the Harry Potter films. Not totally sure if I can copy it here, due to copyright, so please read it at: http://janeyeh3.com/somepoems.aspx. I love the last line: ‘Afterwards, you wonder what the glitter was for.’

6.

Projection. I found these ‘behind the scenes’ snaps taken from a shoot with Colin (see blog entry from an earlier shoot here), by Ivory Flame, who I was modelling with for some of the shots. Funky, eh?

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4 thoughts on “Notes on Appearance & Reality

  1. I missed this blog entry when you initially posted it. I've been catching up with my blog reading, and I read this last night and it has stayed with me.

    I hate to jump on the band-wagon, like some obsessive internet stalker and say, 'me too, me too!' but these kind of musings actually keep me awake at night.

    As an actress, I spend a vast majority of time pretending to be something I'm not… and yet, 'being an actress' is also an integral part of my own identity when I am not on stage. I often don't know where the division lies between who I am and what I do.

    Then when I am not performing, I am also a model – specifically an internet model – and my perceived identity is represented by images and words.

    Did I mention when we met that I often talk about 'ERosanne' in the third person? I can't remember if I did, or if I merely thought it. Anyway I do often speak of her in the third person. I am even able to look at images of her, and not identify 'myself.' Sometimes, the two collide, and there are some images of 'ERosanne' that I also recognise as 'Ros.' But more often than not, ERosanne is someone I do not identify with in everyday life. I am certainly not her when I am walking down the street.

    Then there is my writing. I write a blog as 'ERosanne,' which offers insights into my life as an art nude model… I'm not entirely sure who I am when I am writing. Perhaps the two combine more then, than at any other time.

    I am often surprised when acquaintances – even friends – describe me. The person they describe is not at all the person I see myself as. I am often described as 'confident, strong, feisty'… I dare say some would even call me 'arrogant.' The funny thing is that I don't feel any of those things: It's true that I am able to stand on stage and perform in front of thousands people. It's also true that I can take my clothes off in front of strangers. But in reality, I am not 'myself' when I am doing either of those things, and there is a part of me that readily accepts I am hiding behind the guise of my professions, which even have separate pseudonyms and identities. Sometimes it's hard juggling more than one identity within just one faΓ§ade…
    (Too much text, more coming)

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  2. The nature of my work has forced me to develop a tough outer shell. It is, shall we say, an occupational hazard. It hides the fact that more often than not, I am hiding disappointments that are sometimes too hard to deal with. When I meet people in real life, I'm self-conscious that I come across as many things I am not. The voice in my head is always yelling, 'why did you say that? What did you do that for?' and I often feel like I am watching myself perform externally, in a disassociated kind of way. (Is there a term for this mental condition? I'm probably sounding like a complete lunatic right now!).

    I read 'The Power of Now' by Eckhart Tolle in an attempt to accept things as they are, rather than constantly question them. (I also tried meditation, but I couldn't make my subconscious shut up). The book made me question what the 'self' is, and these days I find myself stepping out of my 'self' and observing my own confused thoughts more than ever. I'm not sure if this is the path to nirvana, or a certain road to insanity. Either way, it's an interesting read.

    I am not sure why I started this response to your blog. Mostly it was just to say that I also ponder this question often (and will endeavour to read some of the literature you mentioned). It was also to say (again) that it was lovely to meet you in person – (you are very much as I imagined from your online persona)… and (funnily enough) I did find myself questioning afterwards how I come across to others in reality. I beat myself up about this sometimes. I'm not sure I 'like' my online persona any more than the 'real one,' or indeed, which one IS the real me. Either way, I worry about how I am perceived.

    I am going to cease these insane ramblings now, lest I am indeed perceived as a crazy nut-case or obsessed lunatic. Should you ever find yourself in the area again, I always think it would be interesting to discuss these intellectual musings… though in reality I am more likely to find myself 'bitching' about the online forum personalities of mutual (virtual) acquaintances! (And then later asking myself why I do that?!) Sometimes it's easier to rant, than it is to muse.

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  3. Hello Ros!

    Wow, such comprehensive commenting – thank you so much for your thoughts! πŸ™‚ (And yes, I realise you are not an internet stalker – it just seems we have similar thoughts sometimes!)

    Well, I've often thought about the nature of acting professionally – it is quite a bizarre thing to do when you think about it (base a career on pretending to be someone else) – almost as potentially silly as skiing (creating a serious sport and industry out of sliding down a snowy hill for fun) – and yet both are accepted in our world as normal, brilliant things to do… πŸ™‚ But I think having a talent for acting requires a high level of emotional maturity and/or the skills to portray a range of emotions in a convincing way. I think good actors/actresses need to be very perceptive when it comes to understanding human psychology. Modelling obviously has some things in common with acting; being able to separate how you might actually feel from how you appear to feel.

    I don't think I have much of a discrepancy at all between my 'real' self and my modelling self – I'm sure there are parts of my character that are emphasised, but that's it really. If I was to be a completely different person from my modelling persona I think it would make my head spin. That said, I think it's totally natural to feel that certain images capture 'the real you' more than others, and I agree it's cool when you feel this has happened. Remember that this is what many artists strive for, especially with portrait work, so by definition it is not possible to feel ALL photos to have captured your 'true' 'soul' or 'essence', or there would be no challenge for the lovely earnest artists! πŸ˜‰ It was really nice to meet you too – 'confident, strong, feisty' I can understand, but not 'arrogant', so fret not! πŸ™‚ x

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  4. Ella you do give the lie to the pervasive view that models are beautiful bodies without minds. you musings reminded me of my time in Japan where appearance and reality are of course two very different things. The Japanese distinguish between tatemai and honne – what you show to others and what you think/feel and hold to yourself. None of us go naked into the world even if we aren't wearing any clothes.
    Simon

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