What modernity describes as beauty is merely a blank canvas onto which we can project any story we desire. What we see as beauty is a story we can understand and aspire towards.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
The two primary modes of photography are documentation and creation. While they always overlap to some degree, one is generally dominant.
The process of creation goes something like this; An Empty room and flawless faces and bodies are a blank canvas. They are dressed and prepared, positioned and posed to mirror externally a vision which existed prior, in the mind. This is then captured and shared with the world.
The process of documentation involves taking something of substance, and surrounding it with a blank canvas which is then dressed as well. This creation is used to frame the subject and to accentuate it’s salient points.
I propose that the “flawless” human face and body are like the room, empty. If they are to be tools used to tell a story, they must be devoid of any story of their own, lest it conflict. If there is any trace of story, it must match the narrative the artist wishes to create, but the more story an individual face tells, the greater the chance of deviance from the story in the artists mind, and the lower the chances they’ll be usable towards that ends.
Our fixation on youth is a combination of our own selfishness and our desire for permanence. We idolize the young body and mind not because of their enthusiasm, which we generally tend to grow quickly tired of in practice, despite how much we may want to pretend we enjoy it. Rather, they are the blank canvas onto which we can project our own hopes and emotions. When we gaze on a face that does not have a story of it’s own, we find nothing to contradict the story we want to project onto it. This is, after all, how Obama won the presidency, and why so many of his supporters are upset now that the truth of the man is consistent with himself, and not with their own projections.
The problem is, of course, that lives and bodies do have their own trajectory, which soon enough, becomes evident to anyone who cares to look. The story may not be visible in the young face, but it will emerge soon enough. This process is cumulative. Each step builds on the previous step, and none can be erased.
The transient fantasies of youth, each projected in mascara and silk, onto the faces and bodies of adolescents can not stand up to the story on a real man’s face, scarred or wrinkled with the unforgiving honesty we call reality. This story is not made up and painted on. It is not fantasy, but reality, pure and nuanced in a way that can only be created when the author of the art has taken a lifetime to develop it, and used himself for the canvas. Our bodies and faces are, in fact, the art of our life, and the reflection of our mind and heart, whether we’re proud of our creation or not. The aged face is truth and history and life in a way that the face of a child never will be, until life has made them a child no longer.
So then, there are two reasons and two reasons only to seek out the blank slate of youth over the full story of the well aged body and face:
The first is noble, that we have our own story to tell. Bravely, honestly and with full awareness, we will chose to put the empty canvas of youth to hard use in the noble cause of telling tall tales. In the process, we will use up some of that youth, and our story will leave it’s permanent, but more subtle mark upon them. In good time this use will contribute, ever so slightly, to the development of their own true story.
The second is cowardice. That we all die seems to be commonly enough acknowledged, at least intellectually, but the fact itself is also common, and therefore banal. There is no nobility in death. Anything so called is truly nobility in life, if only the last instant thereof. And there lies the rub. There is no commonalty to life, beyond that it ends. Some earn scars and wear them proudly, while others run to their dermatologist and beautician, to hide the signs of the experience they’ve honestly earned, to hide them under the mask of a face which has not yet had the chance. This never works. Our faces reflect ourselves, and to change the canvas must be an intentional act. The difference will show, but it will show in addition to, and not instead of that which is below it, that which was earned over the years. Our faces reflect our selves. They are no masks, but windows. To grow old gracefully is to embrace the true story already told, and to proclaim proudly from the book in which it is written. Anything else is to hide from the same.
I want to say I have no story to tell, that I do not need youth to hide in, but I’d be lying. Still, my need for it grows less every day. This is not to the exclusion of my honest desire to see and hear the stories of noble men and women.
My own story is still forming, and my face and body are in the awkward point between youth and old age, neither blank, nor possessing a story that can be read unless by the subtle eye.
Still, as far as others go, while I can and do enjoy the vision of youth, the fascination fades as quickly as it begins. The face devoid of it’s own story, is sometimes filled with hope, aspiration and wonder, but those go only so deep, and far too often the mind behind an empty face matches perfectly. Not that this is a problem for those who wish to mold their model into their own vision, but it won’t do for anyone wishing to learn. There’s nothing to sink your teeth into. I prefer the face which tells a story over the blank slate of youth. It is an education and an enigma, a puzzle to be solved, and story to be heard. It challenges me to read from the proud bearer of such a life as it shows.
A society which is obsessed with youth is a society which can not shut up, too busy telling our own stories, often to no one but ourselves, to stop and listen to the subtle but proud stories of those who have lived real lives.
I confess to being as guilty of all the acts of cowardice I have detailed above as anyone else, but I am also ready to listen.
Right now I have no story to tell, no grand design to paint onto the blank canvas of youths face. Tell me your story, and let me see you proudly bear the marks of your life, that I might learn from them, and see how I might shape myself and my story. I want to take your picture. I am not a creator, but a documentarian.
Let me see your face. Let me hear your story.