The photo album in my phone has 47 photos since 2014. Most of them are cats and screenshots or things I should remember. That’s how much I don’t enjoy taking pictures. Even more so when it comes to special moments. People say pictures help them remember the moments more vividly. Well, I have different senses for feeling the moment. I enjoy the colour smeared in the reflected atmosphere, the temperature to my skin, the smell of air, and the feeling in my stomach when I recall them. However distorted the image may be, I still prefer to experience with my emotion as I perceived than remembering the facts. The mere visual effect of photos manipulates me into see the moment flat, taking away the full experience. Why stay in the shallow water when you can dive deeper with whales.
My philosophy of photo-taking has been articulated and encrusted since the rise of social network where people post nice photos of them doing something nice. Rather than accepting that’s the new and instant way of publicly and beautifully laying out our lifestyle, my rebellious nature led me to jeer at those taking a cup of coffee on a table, and I may have felt slightly superior for not doing the same. I wasn’t better at other things, though. I guess I just hate it because I don’t have the beautiful lifestyle or any skill to attract attention from people. Still I kept on judging and pretended to be more mature showing “I don’t have to prove my life” kind of attitude. This, however, has been challenged since I started helping out my sister’s business time to time. On streets and coffee shops, I take pictures of her with the clothes she sells online. The first time I did, I was awfully embarrassed to be shown as a photographer. Apparently I not only hate taking photos but also being presented as such. I had to keep reminding myself that I’m just helping my sister and this is not real me. After months of snapping, I finally got used to taking photos in coffee shops. The thing is, lots of people take photos in coffee shops in Seoul —of themselves or other seemingly meaningless objects to my judgment. I felt indifferent and not embarrassed by my task anymore, until we went to a German diner for a brunch. Yes, you saw it right, German brunch. The bread was as hard as 20 layers of fabric. The diner is located in Itaewon where the percentage of foreigners and foreign restaurants is higher than any other areas in Seoul.
There, I felt frustration for having to take photos in a public place. I’ve been fine in other places but it was particularly exasperating to do the same in that diner. I was back to being self-conscious. The arduous task felt like forever. I was afraid people might look at me and think I’m the one who values the photo of a $3 cup of coffee on instagram. ‘I really hate having to do this every time,’ I thought. But that wasn’t true; I didn’t hate it every time. I wasn’t as irritated this much in other places. Places filled with Koreans. I wondered what it has to do with nationality.
It’s the culture, not the nationality, in fact. My perceived peer culture, to be precise. I must have assumed that my peer culture —a group of Korean women aged between 20-30— espouses taking photos and uploading on instagram. In contrast, being surrounded by non-peer culture group made me self-conscious of what I was doing whether they approve it or not —like being in a new country.
On the way back, I took a bus and was thinking about why I take such an effort on resisting against being presented as THE type of person. Perhaps I’m just afraid to be defined as THE type. But it’s not like people actually think I’m THAT. Most of them probably didn’t even know I was there. Why would it matter? When the question registered, a young woman stepped in the bus and sat in front of me. From the angled backseat, I could clearly see the hair roll dangling on her forehead. ‘Did she forget to take it off before leaving home?’ I wondered. She took out the small mirror from her bag then pulled it to her face. I slipped my eyes off to the window before she catches me watching her. She didn’t take her roll off hurriedly, instead she took it much later on. That tells me the roll in the bus was intentional. She was willing to look publicly unprepared in order to look nice at some place else. If that wasn’t self-confidence, what is? I thought I was a determined, confident person than any other person. I wasn’t; I was so very fragile. Because I would be extremely self-conscious if I have to have my hair roll attached in any public places. If it was another day, I would’ve thought that she was rather narcissistic. But seeing her that day, she truly wowed my heart. I would never be able to do it.
All the energy spent on hating and resisting in case someone might mistakenly define who I am! It reminds me of a guy who loathed anything with pink because it is too feminine. At first, it seems like he just hates the colour. But look inside, he’s afraid that the colour will make him look feminine, isn’t he? Feeling threatened by a colour is the most absurd thing there is. As absurd as feeling threatened by well.. instagramers. Like I am.
I must admit that being an instagramer has nothing to do with vanity. In fact, I recently set up an account to upload photos I took. There are wonderful things that are not vain at all. Even when I judge a person being vain, I know that my “evaluation” has no power in reading the true person he or she is. It’s just my fragile ego hitting every corder of my nerves and eventually hiding in my vocal cords.
We all bring stories to our life; Many different reasons why we ended up hating certain things. Had I not looked and sounded like a teenager, I wouldn’t have been obsessed with looking like a serious adult adulting away. I don’t know for sure but it’s possible my deepest fear is about becoming shallow and superficial, and that might as well be the reason I hated instagram photos so much. Or I don’t know, maybe I hate the idea of becoming shallow and superficial and that’s why I fear. Hating and fearing is just so close.
When we hate someone —be it of certain religion, class, sexuality— it can be worthwhile to consider looking into what we fear. Do I fear them or fear what I would become? Am I afraid of them because they remind me of my deepest fear?
Photograph: Peter Clarkson
What we say and what we mean does not share the same path anymore.
I struggle against social validation. Some says that’s how it is, some says my standard is too high. Shouldn’t anyone’s standard be higher than just “fitting in” to the society? Or is it the wisdom we need to nurture to be able to live in symbiosis?