In black and white: my true self
During the Covid-19 lockdown, like so many I had time to reflect. Cleaning up around the house, I started to sort through some of my old childhood mementoes and I came across these photos of me as a teenager in the late 1980s.
My brother Matthew was a hobbyist photographer. He had a rather decent darkroom set up in the basement of our house and it was one of the things I loved the most – when I was permitted to join him in the strange red haze and watch as he shook the photo trays and carefully handled the edge of a blank white piece of paper with wooden tongs as it magically transformed into an image. I can still smell the photographic chemicals dripping from the photos as Matt pegged them up to dry.
I took art as an elective in high school and one of our study modules was photography – I loved it. One weekend, I must have convinced Matt to let me use his camera so that my best friend and I could test out our skills and take some editorial-style photos at my house, in the style of a magazine photo shoot (I guess my desire to be an editor started early!).
It was these black and white negatives and prints that I found recently and had converted to digital format for longevity. Looking more closely at the images from my computer, I’m sent back in time to see myself as a mid-teen.
It’s a bit of trip to see myself at that age, 30 years ago. But what hit me profoundly is that the things I loved back then are still the things I love today. My room is decorated with artworks, posters (many hand-made), various knick-knacks, souvenirs and pictures of Hollywood movie stars.
When you’re a kid, your bedroom becomes the truest and expression of yourself – your own mini-domain that you can, to some degree, turn into your own mini ‘wishful thinking’ apartment. I seem to have segmented the room into various zones.
In one corner, a pseudo shrine to the exotic and tribal, I have pictures of Tutankhamun (I absolutely loved ancient history); there are prints of artist Paul Gaugin from his time in Tahiti; a Maori doll from New Zealand that my Dad brought back from a trip; a clay mask made by one of my siblings; a painting of my own on the wall in the style of ancient pottery; and a carved wooden fish from The Great Barrier Reef. I’m wearing a 1980s gypsy dress of my mother’s and a beaded necklace wrapped around my wrist as a bracelet.
Above my desk, I notice a postcard of James Dean stuck on the window frame.
In another corner of my room, or my virtual globe, I have a handmade ‘Arts, Music, Film and Dance’ poster stuck above my door. A poster of the Australian Flag is pinned on the back my door while another set of James Dean’s eyes lurk nearby. My face is looking really ‘serious’ – I must have assumed the moody look was mandatory in fashion magazines! Just to the left of a vintage oval mirror is a series of prints from famous artists, including A Bar at the Folies-Bergère by Manet; Portrait of Dr Gachet by Van Gogh; and Water Lilies by Monet. On the same wall is a sketch in led pencil by one of my talented artistic friends from school. This must have served as my own mini art gallery.
Moving to the fashion ‘arrondissement’ of my room, my wardrobe door is decorated with black and white pictures and postcards of James Dean from Rebel without a Cause; Elvis Presley; Marilyn Monroe; and The Beatles. In one photo, I’m carrying a tote bag that reads ‘Paris’ (a gift from my mum) and on my wardrobe door, above a United Colour of Benetton print is a colourful Frida Kahlo-style image of a model from a fashion magazine spread.
In another shot, I’m ‘reading’ a Vogue magazine in my sister’s room, beneath an Elvis poster and James Dean poster.
The last photo on the roll is of me, back in my basic pyjamas with a stuffed toy nearby as I sit on my Ken Done quilt cover.
I’ve loved getting to know myself again. It’s apparent that the things that inspired me back then are the things that still light my soul on fire today: arts, fashion, creativity, storytelling and the mystique of vintage legends.
As we move through our lives as adults it easy to veer off course from our truest self and to distance ourselves from the child that lives within all of us. All too often we lose our child-like wonder and abandon our passions – as bills to pay, children to raise and the ‘business’ of living gets in our way and can dull our dreams.
To see who I was back then and what interested me has been a heartening reminder and has, in many ways, reaffirmed my decision to start this blog. My love of vintage, art, design, fashion, travel and visual storytelling has always been a part of my DNA. Even though I’m starting something ‘new’ with this blog, I cannot describe how it feels like this is my most true, honest and authentic expression of myself. I am, in a sense, coming home and holding hands with that imaginative girl I see in the black and white photos.
So if you’re still reading this, firstly: thank you.
Secondly, if you’re feeling a niggling sense that there’s something within you needing to get out, a goal or dream you’ve long abandoned, something you may have turned your back on for years that is aching to be expressed, I invite you to connect with the child within you and ask him or her, what brings you joy? What do you love that makes your spirits soar?
We make life so complicated but sometimes, where we need to be and what we need to be doing really IS simple – staring us in the face in black and white.