Leaving My Behind in the Past

I’ve been thinking about the lyrics to the B-52s song, The Detour Thru Your Mind: I need to leave my past behind. I need to leave my behind in the past. Whenever I work on my historical self-portrait project, I think, “I have to stop this. It’s disturbing and points to insanity. I need to leave the past and move into the 21st century.” Then, I find a new technique to simulate photo grain in 1916 and start again. Some of you may be saying, “This is the most vain thing I have ever seen. How could someone be so self-absorbed?” Others might say, “Sad. Very sad when I mind is lost.”

You know how trans-gendered people feel like they are in the wrong body? I feel like I’m in the wrong time. Working on these images is a small attempt to place myself back in the right temporal place. Of course, I only use family photos. Otherwise it wouldn’t make any sense. I don’t want a different family. And, frankly, it looks fun to spend life summering in Newport and doing the European tour for four months each year, or running for president, or starting an artist colony in Big Sur during the depression. So, for your enjoyment, like watching a reality show when someone slowly goes mad, here is the latest batch.

And Now for Something Really Disturbing

Do you ever do something and then doubt your sanity? For years I’ve been collecting family images. I find them at the Virginia Historical Society, Library of Congress, old books, a shoebox from my grandmother, and ask for photos of portraits hanging in a relative’s foyer. So far, so good. This might be obsessive, but certainly productive. Everything was working perfectly. I’d find an image of Gen. Ambrose Powell Hill, attach it to a short bio, and voila, another leaf on the tree was articulated. In some instances, I could only find someone in a group photo such as the crew team at Harvard in 1914. But that was fine, as long as I could point out the right person.

Then something changed. Working on this one night after a rather grueling day and a couple of ginescas (Tanqueray and Fresca), I slipped into a disturbing place. I fixed the levels and color of the image, and then replaced my relative with a picture of myself. Okay, scary, I know. Then it seemed to become a bizarre art project. It’s not as easy as it seems. Modern lighting and cameras are very different than an image taken in 1880. Now it hasn’t gotten so bad that I’ve started recreating the lighting and shooting new images to drop in (although I did consider it). I can justify this in a couple of ways: first, I’m learning Photoshop techniques; second, it’s a “Cindy Sherman in history” art project. But I’m pretty sure this points to a tragic desire to retreat into the past.