One irony in life is no matter how narcissistic people get, no one will ever have a chance to “directly see” their own faces.
In the past, people saw their faces by using standing water, other people’s pupils, and the foggy flat surface of metals. With help of advancing technology, people can finally see what their face looks like when they are not just “looking straight forward.” But no matter how far the modern technology evolves, we still can’t no see our faces without a medium. This irony highlights one truth – the existence of human being is all relative, and not an entity with complete self-autonomy.
What is man? Who am I? There has never been a clear answer on this issue. My existence is relative to another dimension, another person, another object.
To look at oneself through a medium or a conduit is a very mundane experience for people in this day and age, but the experience is still magical. When I look at a picture of me, it means I am looking at myself. It feels like a near-death out-of-body experience or a scene from a dream. It is like I am standing at the entrance of a time warp, looking at the man in the picture who is both familiar yet estranged. That man is me, but that man is also not me. In pictures, all my movements and experiences are captured and frozen in time. The times I smiled, waved my hands, held my lovers, hugged my parents, walked the dog, cuddled with my cat; at home, at dinner table, out in the suburb, inside the city, on school campus, at work, in front of the Eiffel Tower, under the cherry blossoms in Kyoto, giving a toast at my wedding, and holding my newborn baby…the man in the picture (me), is like a collection of butterfly specimen-- lifeless yet images of happiness, pride, and content will remain forever alive. Meanwhile, in real life, I continue to live, albeit in distress. All I can do is gaze at these pictures with my cloudy eyes and exclaim, “I wish I could have died that way…..”
But a portrait of a person is also a proof of his or her existence. A man’s flesh is an insufficient explanation for life, spirit, and soul, which then begs the question, what is the relationship between all three and is the dichotomy of flesh and soul means the two will forever be diametrically opposite of each other?
From a certain perspective, photography shares many traits with ancient alchemy. In alchemy, one takes the relics of a dead individual and a crystal ball, goes to a dark room and chants whatever incantation needed to make something come alive. For photographers, they also go into a dark room and use a mixture of chemicals to turn intangible memories into something tangible and lasting. The product of this process is the creation of an image. Come to think of it, this is not so different from how God created Adam in His own image.
With the help of modern technology, the mystery of photography is slowly being unraveled and such revelation has also diminished man’s value in images. In the past, having a family portrait taken at a studio was some sort of a ceremonial gesture. But now, the convenience of these mega-sized memory cards and digital cameras that can store thousands of pictures at once, have replaced the practice of waiting for films to be developed at a store. As the value on image creation fades, so is the importance that man places on God. When people start taking life lightly, what we have left is a frail and damaged image in the likeness of God.
Such phenomenon is seen across all aspects of photography in which we see God image being diluted, twisted, destroyed, or even ousted from life. This trend is like the exile of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden after they offended the Father. In modern time, people have also driven God away.
No pictures you see will ever be completely objective. What you believe determines what you see. A picture is not just a snapshot of what took place, it represents the man’s anxiety of an unpredictable future. Through the revelations of the Bible, I believe that while humans are fallible and temporary, all man still has a strong yearning for eternity.
This pursuit for eternity is like people’s attempt to preserve and freeze a certain moment in time through images. Although such attempt will only result in failure, the process of trying to make time stands still is still enticing.
Photography is my hobby which I use to express the religion that I live and die for. The “Tiny Dust” series is more than a recording of images, but rather a collection of portraits of the “human soul” or “single-frame dramas” based on the Christian humanity. It means all the people featured in the collection are not random accidents of the universe or the results of evolution of the primates. They are not the embodiment of desires or the products of cultures. Rather, they are the unions of physical matters and the Holy Spirit.
Although man bears the image of God, often times the face that the world sees is a demonic mixture of angst and anxiety. This collection not only represents my keen interests in time and human history, but also what time and history means in the Christianity. It is also a demonstration that human existence is not a result of indiscriminate accidents in an enclosed universe, or a random evolution, but a slow and steadfast way to reveal that God is alive.