The interminable cycle of photographing others

by Thor Alvis

I am not completely sure that I want to write about this, but I have an inkling that I should. I surmise it is one of those moments you find yourself in the savagely spiraling whirlpool of ambivalence. What I mean is one part of me discourages me and commands me not to write this, while the other compels me to write. If I were to call them, I would reckon the first one is probably my brain, the latter one is my heart, however, this is one of the greatest delusions of all. I am just lying to myself because my heart has nothing got to do with thinking. Whoever came up with this weirdly nonsensical idea should be hopelessly romantic, like me. I was euphorically joyous when Oscar W. wrote “If a man treats life artistically, his brain is his heart” yet I cannot let myself get fooled by these words. This is probably one of those words I would like to have on my gravestone, still, it does not sit right with me.

I do not know who holds the spot inside me right now, but I can vouch for that it is neither my brain nor my heart. I guess unlocked something unusually mysterious in me. I want to call it ”me.” My intention is not to descend into perversely portentous philosophizing, ergo do not get me wrong and Me wants to write this, so here we go.

Jean-Paul Sartre is unequivocally one of the most quoted philosophers of all time and I decided to quote these words specifically for an implicit reason (probably quite explicit to my unconscious self). I suppose as everything these words can be misinterpreted and subjective (aren’t all the interpretations misinterpreted and subjective, after all?). There is a struggling feeling in me which wishes desperately to decipher the meaning of this. What did Sartre mean by saying that hell is other people? Does it mean people are the embodiment of utmost evilness so we should hide ourselves beneath the physically or emotionally built shells that do not let a single ray of light penetrate inside? Even though I am a true-blue pessimist and introvert, I detest this idea. The very idea of it creates repulsive quakes inside me. He must have meant that we the people do not let ourselves be free, because we take great indulgence in trapping everybody crossing our lives like a butterfly, desperate to free himself.

When I was in high school, there was a party that I attended involuntarily. It was definitely not sumptuous or extraordinary. On the contrary, it was full of banality and tastelessness. I hated every bit of it, but put a happy face on because that was easy to make a pretense, showing that you enjoyed it. It keeps all the nosy questions under arm’s length. The thing is I was not aware of the fact that I was pretending at the moment. Maybe I want to convince myself that I was there involuntarily because I believe going to parties inherently requires involuntary acceptance for proving to others that we do enjoy being around or hang out with them.

Something special happened when the party ended. Something that was not even crossing my mind. One of the girls said who knows how ugly I must have been in those pictures when I did not know they were taking pictures of me. Of course, I was not aware what the philosophy was at the time but in retrospect, she said incontestably one of the most influential words that emblazoned directly into my mind like a scorching ink on the divinely soft silk. She was not aware of the thing she was saying I am sure, but it was more than just a stupid complaint by a teenager who only wanted to seem beautiful in pictures, to me at least. It was epiphany-like thought and made me realize that life is not so different than a teen party. We all carry our cameras in life and consciously and unconsciously taking pictures of people without their knowledge here and there. It is not an ordinary camera and it tells something about others’ personalities. We store those pictures as rigid and raucous judgments in the deepest parts of our brain. We have collected tons of ugly pictures of others, whereas the others also have done their part. We never want to believe those people who we caught when they lied to us. By the same token, we never want to believe peoples’ misdeed, just because they seem perfectly scrupulous and honorable in the pictures, we have of them. This delicately pernicious mess of photographing others does not give us the chance to thrive in this hell which we all have a hand in the creation of. We are all little brats who struggle to have a peaceful life in hell. Try as we might, we cannot free ourselves from the shackles of this labyrinthine hell, also known as “others”. Besides, there is a worse kind of this phenomenon. It comes to the fore when we photograph ourselves wrongfully by trapping ourselves from the inside. I must admit I am myself one of those and sometimes I cannot even solve the hell-like mess that I factiously confabulated inside my mind, but trying is vital. We cannot shatter the photographing machine that we all are innately equipped with without shattering ourselves. This is us and there is no escape. But I think I have a better idea.

To me, it does not mean you need to hide under a rock and live like a solitary moth devoid of light in need of an escape from the lenses of the hellish-like others. Whatever light is for the moth, people are the same thing to us. Light is bound to obliterate moths if they are in intensely close proximity. Is it right for the moth to escape this interminable cycle of affliction? I cannot give you an answer, but what I think is no. Without light, a moth could not be the metaphor in this essay. Their incredibly contradictory coexistence is the same maze-like chaos we the people find ourselves in.

I suggest heaven is other people, too. It can be a friend, relative or complete stranger. It is what it is. Why not photographing others under the bright sun? Why do we tend to choose always revoltingly gloomy backgrounds for others? Of course, we cannot realize this. It is a pipe dream, not an idea, but we do get to choose those backgrounds, don’t we?

Remember the last person you captured in your mind. That person does not wish to live in there in perpetuity and has probably his own life and businesses to attend to. Plus, why would you like to store an ugly picture of somebody inside your mind for years? Your storage capacity is limited, yet you over and over again choose to keep those pictures. Let alone keeping, why do you let one picture destroy the whole album which is beyond your reach to get a full glimpse at? You cannot be totally free of being photographed, but you can choose to make people either your heaven or hell. Besides, you can intentionally be a heaven of others. Let them photograph you when you are at your best. Compliment them. Utter a couple of lovely words. Do things that make you feel you create a heaven for others. Kindness is contagious as resentment. They say resentment resembles roving fireballs that cannot be held too long. If done, it will burn you. You can throw that on to others or let the fire subside inside you by letting the soft rustle of wind take it with itself. It is up to you. As Malachy McCourt once wrote,

“Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”

Lastly, do not rush to be a hell of somebody, try to be heaven.

well, not that sexy anyway.