I’m a little high on adrenaline tonight. I’ve had some more work done on my left half sleeve tattoo today, which always gives me an adrenaline rush afterwards, but it was just an intense day all up. I have mentioned before that I am working on a project with Dr Lauren Gurrieri of Griffith University, which I cannot share much about yet (I promise I will as soon as I can) other than it involves my being photographed around the subject of my identity. Of course, a major part of my identity is my tattooed body, so it was obvious that was one of the events we needed to document. I’m really pleased and honoured that my fabulous tattoo artist, Victoria R Lundberg of Wild at Heart Tattoo was willing to be photographed (and filmed) during my appointment. She’s a good sport and a talented artist, is Victoria.
Anyway, my eventful day really started when I was sitting waiting for the bus to head into town to meet Lauren and documentary photographer Isaac Brown and head to my tattoo appointment. I was sitting at the bus stop in the shade, minding my own business, reading twitter on my phone when a white tradie van pulled up on the opposite side of the street, and the guy driving lifted his iPhone, took a photo of me and then drove off. I know, I know, I should have said something or flipped him the bird, or took his photo… but when shit like that happens you’re just so stunned that you can do more than give them an indignant look.
It just goes to demonstrate just how much surveillance we fat women (and it is a mixture of fatness and womanhood that draws the surveillance) are subjected to in our culture. It is both surveillance and the policing of our bodies. If a fat woman is too visible, doesn’t hide herself away in shame, dress in black and minimise herself, she is scrutinised, photographed, judged and harassed for it. But fuck hiding away. Fuck letting other people police what I wear, how I do my hair, what I look like in public. I think I look pretty fucking awesome:
Anyway, it got better when I was in town, I was walking through the Myer Centre when a young woman reached out and touched my elbow and exclaimed “Cool hair!” I find that people who are complimenting me or being cool are happy to do so to my face, not by sneaking photos or whispering about me.
So it was particularly apt that today was the day I was a) adding to my half sleeve tattoo, which is a celebration of my identity and b) being photographed for Lauren’s project.
I have to say, it was pretty daunting. I’m not used to just relaxing and letting someone photograph me as I go about my business. I’m so used to having my appearance judged, and of that old mode of scrutinising every photograph of myself because of self consciousness. I only saw two of the hundreds of photographs taken today, one each from Lauren and Isaac, so I have no idea how any of them look. To be honest, that does make me feel nervous. It’s all a learning and growing process – after all, it wasn’t that many years ago that I never let anyone photograph me EVER. That vulnerability is very hard to let go of. But I’m determined to let go of those old feelings of self consciousness because I want there to be a photographic record of my life. I regret those years I didn’t allow people to photograph me.
As well as feeling vulnerable, it was an incredibly empowering experience for me. I trust Lauren and Isaac to give me the space I need to feel comfortable with the process, and enough say in the process that if I’m not feeling comfortable or happy, I can say so and they will respect that. Besides, from what I’ve seen of Isaac’s work, he’s a talented photographer and who wouldn’t love to work with someone with that much talent?
This whole process has been quite cathartic to me, it’s had me thinking about how I identify myself, and how through things like my bright clothing, bold hair and tattoos, I reclaim my right to determine my own identity. Because that’s the thing about identity, it’s our own to determine. I read this wonderful quote from Chris Graham in relation to right wing… media personality (I cannot call him a journalist) Andrew Bolt’s policing of Aboriginal identity, that I think is an excellent universal statement about identity:
No-one, no matter how hard they might stamp their feet, gets to tell you how you should identify.
Just to give you a teaser, here are a few photos that Lauren took on my little compact camera.
Victoria getting into the detail.
It doesn’t hurt that bad, really! (Lauren has a photo of me wincing in pain, so that’s not entirely true!)
Here you go. The work after today’s session.
Victoria made the outlines bolder, touched up some of the colour in spots that were patchy, coloured the moon and the owl’s belly/eyes and added the words on the spines of the books. All in all I’m very pleased with the progress.
Everything about today was about identity for me. From choosing what to wear (which today, was 100% for myself, unlike on days I work or go to events for other people), being photographed without my consent, having a stranger compliment my hair, being tattooed, and indeed the subjects of my tattoos, and being photographed in the process.
I wish for all of you to be given the space and the opportunity to be able to define and own your identity. It feels powerful and cleansing, particularly after having it denied of me for most of my life.